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Mark Kuykendall Bobby Hicks & Asheville Bluegrass

Down Memory Lane – 2015 (Rebel)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Mark Kuykendall Bobby Hicks & Asheville Bluegrass

Lovers of traditional bluegrass can rejoice: it's alive and well. Former Bluegrass Boys Mark Kuykendall (guitar and lead vocals) and superb fiddler Bobby Hicks have joined to form Asheville Bluegrass, and their music is excellent traditional bluegrass.

Kuykendall penned several of the songs, including "Coming Home Never To Part." It talks about roaming from home and missing mom and dad, themes prevalent in traditional bluegrass. Kuykendall has a good voice in the upper baritone range that's clear and easy to understand. If you enjoy lyrics, that's important. Too many singers leave you struggling to understand what they sing. His lyrics are simple patterns, rhyming where you would expect, not over-long, expressing ideas you can understand. Some composers put together lyrics that are so muddled that you can't make sense of the song even if you can figure out what the singer is saying. No problems here!

Hicks has been on the bluegrass scene over half a century, playing with Bill Monroe, Porter Wagoner and 23 years with Ricky Skaggs. Monroe once called him "the truest fiddler he had ever heard." Listening to him kick off Hank Williams' "On The Evening Train," you receive a lesson in expressive fiddle playing. Hicks has a relaxed style that flows and carries you along like a gentle stream.

They reach out to country again with Ernest Tubb's "I Wonder Why You Said Goodbye," kicked off by mandolinist Nick Chandler with Seth Rhinehart playing subtle fills on the banjo before taking his break. Many bands use the banjo as a freight train in the background, giving no space to the singer, but this banjo work provides support without overwhelming the other band members.

Kuykendall contributed five songs, but they've reached out to diverse writers like Jake Landers (of "Walk Softly On This Heart" fame) for his "Will You Wait For Me" and the Louvin Brothers' "Love and Wealth."

Asheville Bluegrass has recorded a project that never leaves you in doubt that it's bluegrass and is diverse in its song selection - some fast, some ballads. It keeps you engaged from "Sweetheart of the Mountains" to "A Beautiful Life." This is a great addition to the world of bluegrass.