Bill Runkle and Smith Hollow

Lonely Tonight – 2015 (Patuxent)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Bill Runkle and Smith Hollow

Bill Runkle has returned to bluegrass after several years away. He was a member of Del McCoury's Dixie Pals in the 1970's before leaving to help form two other groups. He is a good banjo player - you hear that on his composition "Marching Through Glenville" and the often-played "Bully of the Town."

This is really an instrumental CD with three vocal numbers thrown in almost as an afterthought. The singer on "Hello Trouble" (three lead singers are listed: Runkle, guitarist Larry Conner and guest Danny Paisley, but there's no track-by-track information) isn't bad, but not particularly inspiring. He does manage to get all the many words of the chorus sung without stumbling. The beat set by Buck Owens fits the song better, although Conner plays a whale of a guitar break.

"Lonesome Feeling" is a better cut featuring good harmony singing. "I'm Lonely Tonight," with Paisley singing lead, is a Runkle composition that sounds like it could have come from Jimmy Martin with its simple approach to rhyming lyrics: "I miss you my dear, I wish you were here, I'll love you forever, sweetheart." All the cuts have a classic bluegrass sound. No one will mistake this for an attempt to reach new markets with a modernized sound, and that's okay. A fair portion of the bluegrass world wants to keep bluegrass music rooted in the era of the early days.

This is a good banjo CD with Patrick McAvinue doing nice work on the fiddle and Jeff Kidd on the mandolin. Judy Winters steadies the band on bass, though she's kept very quiet in the mix. The downside is the arrangements are not particularly imaginative. It's more like a Grade A players' jam than a carefully constructed CD project.