Black Music Matters Festival

Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Poor Boy's Pleasure – 2016 (Mountain Fever)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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Traditional bluegrass doesn't get much more traditional these days than the kind being made by Junior Sisk and Rambler's Choice; his Jimmy Martin and Stanley Brothers inspired style feels at times as if Sisk and his band are channeling the ghosts of those giants of the genre. This collection of classic-sounding new songs follows the 'if it ain't broke' model of continuing to do what the band does best.

Sisk nods directly to Martin on the tribute "Jimmy, J.D., and Paul," which tells the tale of a young Junior witnessing the Sunny Mountain Boys in the 1950s, set to a driving traditional Martin-style tune. Martin's legendary hard living might not be an inspiration to the straight-laced Sisk, but his ability to entertain and engage in excellent musicianship certainly is.

The strength of Rambler's Choice is that they shine on multiple styles within what one might think of as a restrictive 'traditional' technique. "Longneck Blues" leans country and honky-tonk, "Lonnie Ray" kicks off the album with an uptempo workout worthy of the Clinch Mountain Boys, and Sisk proves again what a great gospel singer he is on the waltz-time "What About Me Lord," employing a plaintive mountain soul style straight from the Ralph Stanley playbook.

Bluegrass has come a long way since the glory days of Jimmy Martin that Sisk references and represents in the contemporary scene. It's a measure of the success of both the genre and of Sisk that he's not only accepted, but celebrated as a masterful part of that popularity and progress.