Del McCoury has a track record of more than a half-century of top-notch, thoroughly professional bluegrass performance and recording artistry, and if any suspect or fear that, as he nears his 75th birthday, age and almost six decades on the road have started to take a toll on his singular voice, this new release will lay all such fears to rest.
It's vintage Del, will be completely satisfying to longtime fans and hard to beat as an introduction for new ones. The title track is, of course, a cover of Bobby Bare's smash 1966 hit, and represents something of a "homecoming" for him. McCoury's hometown of York, Pa. is a mere 50 miles or so away from Baltimore, and he cut his professional teeth in the bars and clubs in and around the city, as well as venues in neighboring Pennsylvania and Delaware before signing on as Bill Monroe's lead singer and guitarist in the early 1960s.
Though well and justly known for carrying on the traditional bluegrass standard, McCoury has always shown a knack for drawing material outside the genre. A few years back he put his own stamp on Brit folk rocker Richard Thompson's epic story tune 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, and it has since become among his most requested stage numbers.
A similar story song, the Civil War-themed Butler Brothers graces the new disc, and it's among the more attention-grabbing cuts. His previous recordings have shown a fondness for Jerry Lee Lewis, and he covers The Killer again here with Once More With Feeling. Also on hand is a nod to The Platters and their mid-50s R & B hit Only You, done slightly more up-tempo than the original in a way that works nicely. Perhaps the most interesting song, though, is I Need More Time, which alternates between a slow, contemplative tempo and a slightly faster pace. The slower interludes highlight the fact that, for a guy known for having a voice with a piercing quality, McCoury can sing with surprising subtlety and emotion.
Also part of McCoury's success of the last two decades is that, with the exception of bassist Alan Bartram, who signed on in 2005, he has had the same band for virtually the entire time: sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Robbie (banjo), along with the extraordinary fiddler Jason Carter. It's one of the tightest, most proficient ensembles in all of American music, and "The Streets of Baltimore" offers another sterling example of that.