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Junior Sisk

Load The Wagon – 2020 (Mountain Home)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Junior Sisk

While modern bluegrass continues to drift toward the singer/songwriter model and material featuring a more contemporary way of looking at the world, Junior Sisk remains one of the blessed few who still thinks there are lots more of the old songs that are worth bringing new life to and maybe a few new tunes that lend themselves to the classic bluegrass style.

Sisk is no new kid on the block. He's been among the finest practitioners of the traditional sound for decades. For this new collection of tracks, he dives deep into the history of the music, drawing on the work of bluegrass pioneers like Red Allen and Charlie Moore ("Best Female Actress"), Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs ("I'm Lonesome and Blue") and Bill Yeats ("Get In Line Buddy") as well as Golden Era country writers like Jimmie Skinner ("He Died A Rounder at 21"). Among the standout tracks is a Carter Family gem, "Lover's Farewell" (often confused with another Carter standard, "Lover's Return") with backup singer and guitarist Heather Berry Mabe stepping up on the lead.

Most of the 11 cuts are straight-ahead bluegrass, with plenty of drive, but the most interesting ones come when Sisk and his band shift gears a little bit. The title track features banjo player Tony Mabe switching over from the three-finger Scruggs style to the older clawhammer style, giving the tune a nice, old-time feel. The aforementioned "He Died A Rounder at 21" is a sad tale of youth ended by tobacco and alcohol, featuring Sisk's solo vocal backed only by guitar, and the stripped-down production adds to the song's impact. The tune was also recorded by the late Dave Evans, whom Sisk credits as one of his primary influences in the music.

The supporting cast here is the current iteration of Sisk's regular touring band, Rambler's Choice - the Mabes, Jonathan Dillon on mandolin, Gary Creed on bass and Douglas Bartlett on fiddle. It's a first-rate band, and Junior Sisk continues to be among the most reliable hard core bluegrass talents in the business.