When we last heard venerable bluegrass vets Carolina Road, the group was teaming with yesteryear country chart toppers including Eddy Raven, John Conlee, Crystal Gayle and John Anderson for a disc of 'grassified, country imaginings. The results were enjoyable, but not breathtaking.
While capable finding veins between country and bluegrass, Carolina Road is strongest following Jordan's keen vision of bluegrass. Fully realized with "True Grass Again," LJ&CR create a faithful, refreshing representation of the genre grounded in the traditional substratum of bluegrass.
Carolina Road remains Jordan (mandolin, vocals), Ben Greene (banjo, vocals), Josh Goforth (fiddle, vocals), Tommy Long (guitar, vocals) and Matt Hooper (fiddle), with bluegrass legend Randy Graham (Bluegrass Cardinals, Quicksilver, Continental Divide) joining on vocals. Jason Moore and Terry Smith share bass duties, while Will Jones handles the majority of the guitar parts, with several guest vocalists featured.
The North Carolina-based group doesn't waste any time laying down their manifesto. Joined by traditional stalwarts Danny Paisley and Junior Sisk, Long and his cohorts declare:
"Well ol' Cord had it right about crime down on The Row,
They murdered country music, tore out its heart and soul.
Now they're trying to kill the 'grass handed down by Bill Monroe,
Maybe someday they'll find their way to just leave us alone."
"True Grass" isn't the first song declaring a bluegrass reconfiguring is desired in this 'big tent' industry. The C. David Stewart song nails the conviction while ignoring the reality: how do those who love the traditions of bluegrass compete within a crowded Americana-dominated world?
If bluegrass has taught us anything over its 70 years, it is that we are great at ignoring financial reality: bluegrass isn't about paying a mortgage as much as it is the sweet harmonies, "old fiddles, a guitar and mandolin, with a banjo, a Dobro, and an old bass walkin' in." And "True Grass Again" delivers on this promise across 11 songs.
"Run Little Fox," "Little Country Home," and "Portrait of the Blues" are they types of songs and performances that have made bluegrass what it is and always should be. This tradition is further entrenched by a terrific, lively rendition of "Preaching, Praying, Singing" and the more temperate "I Hear Angels Calling Your Name." Randy Graham is given three leads, including "Pickin' Rock Out of the Bluegrass" and "Poor Monroe." Jordan's "Another Soldier," sung by Goforth, is a song that could find itself becoming a bluegrass standard.
Within "True Grass," the lyric, "If we are true to our roots, our music might survive" resonates. Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road have recommitted themselves to this bluegrass promise. "True Grass Again" is a fine return to form for this well-established outfit.