James Alan Shelton has been the lead guitar player in Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys for the past decade. During that time, he has released several albums featuring his thoughtful, well-crafted take on the legacy created by his predecessors of the Stanley Brothers' 1960s heyday, as well as a few nifty touches and tunes of his own. On his latest, Shelton offers another hefty slice of Clinch Mountain-style picking, while expanding his own contributions to include a broader range of sounds. The result is a relaxed, satisfying album that should enhance his well-deserved reputation.
Shelton's bandmates are responsible for the majority of the accompaniment here, and their durable professional relationship lends a relaxed, comfortable air to the proceedings. Blue Highway's Tim Stafford - a long-time friend - contributes some fine guitar solo work on two numbers, including the opening original, "North Fork Of The Holston," while the duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings offer an appropriately Carter Family-sounding vocal on "Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room." The guitarist opts for a refreshing change of pace with some delicate fingerpicking on the title track (written for his wife) and, with Stafford, a nifty version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair."
Whether essaying an old favorite like "Faded Love" or an unfamiliar tune like Bill Monroe's rare "The Sunset Trail," Shelton's picking is elegant and nuanced, proving yet again that taste and feeling will trump flashy fireworks every time.