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John Driskell Hopkins & Balsam Range- Daylight

Donald Teplyske  |  March 29, 2013

This album has been drifting through the Bluegrass Bunker for the past few months. I've listened to it many times, usually late at night and I've found, despite the promise of its title, that is the time to which I believe it is most suited.

"Daylight" is a reflective album, and its songs convey significance gleamed through careful consideration. Not that there isn't immediate enjoyment here- the album is a more than pleasant surface listen. But like a Larry Brown novel, there is more than appears upon initial encounter.

John Driskell Hopkins, who has significant ties to the Zac Brown Band (and I trust the PR folks that this means something: all I know about the group is they have an album cover similar to that of a Ray Lamontange disc), has teamed up with Balsam Range to create a literate bluegrass-Americana hybrid that appeals to my appreciation of acoustic-based music and narrative-rich, layman poetry.

In choosing Balsam Range to serve as his collaborators, Hopkins selected astutely. A bluegrass group of increasing renown, Balsam Range transcends the genre incorporating the tradition with more highbrow approaches (the manner of bass player Tim Surrett and fiddler Buddy Melton on Bye Baby Goodbye, for example) as well as elements that create a catholic mix of country, rock, and old-time sounds.

The group lets loose a little on the light-hearted marital misadventure She Don't Love Me Today and they swing on The Grass Don't Get No Greener. Those who appreciate The SteelDrivers' approach to bluegrass will most likely find comfort within the languid The Devil Lives in A Mason Jar.

All songs were written by John Driskell Hopkins with several the product of collaborations: I Will Lay Me Down (with Jeff Hyde), Bye Baby Goodbye (with Rory Feek of Joey & Rory, who guests on the track), How Could I (with Levi Lowrey, who also appears), and the title track (with Sean McIntyre). While the album at first blush may have 'vanity project' associated with it, Hopkins- in collaborating with top-notch talent- assures himself and his listeners that the quality of the product outweighs any such mistaken association.

I Will Lay Me Down, Runaway Train, and The Devil Lives in a Mason Jar -to cite but three examples- are songs of significant value and should, if they haven't already, find themselves into the repertoire of other groups. Whenever I listen to the album, Hopkins reminds me both vocally and artistically of Darrell Scott; from me, high praise.

The album closes in on an hour with the instrumental Shady Bald Breakdown, the only track on which Balsam Range shares songwriting credit and tho' it goes on longer than those laid down a couple score ago by the likes of Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley, and Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys, it has a similar feel, albeit thrust into a contemporary setting by its guitar phrasing and modern-jam band textures.

"Daylight" is a remarkable album. I heartily recommend it to adventurous bluegrass listeners and those who are solidly within the Americana music world.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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