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Deer Creek Boys

Midnight & Dawn – 2017 (Mountain Fever)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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It's fair to say that much of the best bluegrass of the past three decades has emerged from the Blue Ridge Mountains in central and southern Virginia, almost like there's just something in the water, and the Deer Creek Boys have the look - and sound - of yet another promising Old Dominion band. Like many other younger bands, the four members (brothers Justin and Jason Tomlin, guitar and bass respectively; Cason Ogden, mandolin; and Andy Lowe, banjo) served apprenticeships of a sort in respected, higher profile bands like Nothin' Fancy as well as Junior Sisk's band Rambler's Choice, and this marks their second Mountain Fever release (also Blue Ridge-based) on the heels of their 2015 debut.

Bluegrass has evolved to feature a spectrum of musicians and devotees ranging from the "purists" who want everything to sound like Bill Monroe circa 1946 to the "progressive" devotees for whom a 25-minute freeform onstage jam sounds just about right. The Deer Creek guys undoubtedly fall more than a little bit toward the Monroe/Stanley side of that scale, but it's a sound that will be easily accessible to more modern tastes, especially those looking to dip their toes in the bluegrass pool for the first time. Much of this has to do with the fact that the production values here are excellent. It's nicely recorded and mixed, the arrangements are well thought out, and the tunes are well sequenced, flowing from one to the next with no loss of momentum.

Their traditional chops are displayed nicely on "Air Mail Special," a nod to bluegrass pioneers Jim and Jesse McReynolds (also Blue Ridge boys), as well as on "Been All Around This World." It's an old chestnut, but their treatment is innovative and brings something new to the table. There's also some good original material like "High Wire," "The Cowboy" and the title track covering a variety of tempos and moods, but possibly the most intriguing cut is their take on "I Quit," a Max Barnes/Vince Gill song that echoes the kind of good-natured love (or love lost) songs that were almost Jimmy Martin's trademark in his day.

In just about any genre, it's difficult to sound new and fresh, yet also present material that sounds like it's been around for a hundred years or more. It's still early in the game for the Deer Creek Boys, but so far they seem to have a knack for that.