May 21, 2019
Blue Moon Rising – After All This Time
On a hot day I might enter a bar and accept any of the several lagers on offer. All the beer would be at a prescribed temperature, straw like in colour and probably have a foamy white head. My trying to identify the brand would be nigh on impossible. Welcome to bluegrass. I knew one day I’d have to admit to this and probably upset a lot of men in beards located in mountain hideaways brandishing stringed instruments.
Despite issues with my taste Buds (geddit?) Blue Moon Rising’s 7th album is my cup of tea (yes, I know this could get tedious). With a typical six piece line up of banjo, guitar, dobro, fiddle, mandolin, bass and drums the band demonstrate expert proficiency. In fact bluegrass doesn’t work unless the musicians are top drawer and hone their interplay and solos. You might expect this as Blue Moon Rising have been playing together since 2000 with a core of Tim Tipton (bass), Keith Garrett (mandolin) and Chris West (occasional lead vocals and guitar). Hailing from East Tennessee they still travel the length and breadth of North America bringing their sweet sound to eager audiences. It’s easy to understand their longevity.
“Louisville Rambler” preceded the album as a single release. West’s vocals relate the story of a departing love fueled by her allegiance to the bottle and an enthusiasm for his best friend (!) A single banjo starts this as mandolin and fiddle eventually join the mix. The chorus vocals involve harmonies that gives this a real pop sensibility. Out of the 13 tracks there are three original compositions. The curation of such a diverse selection of other songwriters is attractive and does broaden the sound palette. These covers tap into a rich seam and includes Townes Van Zandt’s “Dollar Bill Blues”. Here the said currency would be swapped for the demon drink should the singer get his way. Jimmy Driftwood has written some classics such as “Tennessee Stud” and “Battle of New Orleans”; here the band tackles “Long Chain On”. This haunting story shares the vocals around with the band driving the song behind with an insistent rhythm. If accessibility to the non-believers is difficult then Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” opens the door.
Canadian Fred Eaglesmith’s “The Rocket” will continue to refresh the parts that other bluegrass bands cannot reach for a long time to come. A slow beautiful melody sung by West tells the story of an elderly veteran watching the trains. He’s reflecting on the one that took his son to war from which he never returned. That exquisite dollop of Country sentimentality coupled to a fine piece of music with terrific mandolin and soaring and swooping violin (Justin Moses) probably makes it onto my end of year playlist; it’ll make it onto yours.
So if you’d like some premium bluegrass slake your thirst with this.