Dave Adkins,
Dave Adkins
(Mountain Fever, 2016)

While relatively new to bluegrass recording, Kentucky resident Dave Adkins has already cut a handful of respectable albums, one with Edgar Loudermilk, another with his since-disbanded Republik Steele, and two (counting this one) under his own name. What he's doing is traditional 'grass in a 21st-century context, delivering it in a tough, full-throated voice that could as easily applied to rock, r&b and country, all genres in which Adkins is practiced.

On the evidence of some numbers on this eponymous release, one might think of Adkins as a hard-core country vocalist in a bluegrass setting, and that wouldn't be entirely wrong. Adkins's country side shows to good effect in, for example, "Sold" (a cheerfully witty novelty piece, once a hit for John Michael Montgomery), "You Don't Have to Go to Be Gone" and "Turn & Burn" (an old-style trucker's anthem). "Fool-o-sophy," composed by Larry and Wanda Cordle with superstar-of-the-moment Chris Stapleton, may be the only country song known to humankind to name-check Socrates. An amiable parody, it's to be appreciated in particular by fans (including me) who have a soft spot in their heads for the honkytonk weepers of country's golden age.

Adkins's original "A Whole Lot More to Tell" may or may not have been intended to be funny. I suppose it all depends on how you feel about the sentiments that drive the narrative. Two strangers meet in a checkout line and proceed to chat. One sees a chance to proselytize the other, who turns out to be thinking precisely the same. Soon they're engaged in a fierce out-Bible competition. I am going to assume Adkins wrote it with tongue firmly in cheek.

Other songs take their inspiration from the narrative tradition of old mountain ballads. "Emmaline's" melody borrows in good part from the venerable Appalachian folksong "East Virginia." The Adkins co-write "Russell Fork River" has the harrowing quality of an uncompromising rural ballad from another century.

The CD concludes with the inevitable paean to true love ("One & Only"), underscoring yet again how hard it is to write something on this often-visited theme. Few have succeeded, and Adkins is not to be counted in that number. Still, for all but a negligible few of its 36 minutes Dave Adkins is strong stuff, a source of comfort to those in need of assurance that real bluegrass, as heart-grabbing as ever, survives and thrives.

music review by
Jerome Clark

14 May 2016

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