To those with even only a passing familiarity with the history of bluegrass, the name of this young band from Florida is an obvious tribute to the pioneers of the music as exemplified in the person of the late, great Lester Flatt. Perhaps more than any other genre of American music, though, bluegrass has lent itself to acts for whom the music is the "family business," and the core of Flatt Lonesome's sound is guitarist Buddy Robertson and his sisters Kelsi (mandolin) and Charli (fiddle). Their first two studio releases and a busy touring schedule were strong enough to garner them recognition in 2014 as IBMA's Emerging Artists of the Year.
It's often said among critics and reviewers that the second release is the proof of the pudding as an indication of artistic staying power, but others - and the hand is being raised here - tend to view the third release as a better barometer, the theory being that, in the course of a couple dozen tracks comprising the first two, they've already recorded the initial material that captured the attention of audiences and promoters, and the question becomes "what do we do now?"
The answer, on "Runaway Train," is that they continue to write and record a few of their own solid originals ("Letting Go", by Kelsi Robertson and husband Paul Harrigill, the band's banjo player) while mixing in covers from an intriguingly wide variety of sources including Merle Haggard ("Mixed Up Mess Of A Heart"), Kasey Chambers (the title cut), Dwight Yoakam ("You're The One") and Gram Parsons ("Still Feeling Blue"). While not overly flashy as pickers, this is a more than competent band instrumentally, with Michael Stockton's Dobro work standing out as distinctive and innovative.
While each of the Robertson siblings is a quality lead vocalist, it's that sibling harmony that drives the sound, and they rely on it extensively throughout "Runaway Train." It's pretty much the same harmonic framework that has served Rhonda Vincent (another product of being raised in a family band) quite well for almost two decades, and the Robertsons carry it off nicely in their own stylish and entertaining way. For the skeptics who hold to the "third album" theory, the evidence here is that Flatt Lonesome is unquestionably capable of a fourth and well beyond.