Jim Hurst,
Second Son
(Pinecastle, 2002)

Second Son opens in the tunnels of "Steven's Deep Coal Mines." Starting slow, this lament over the losses taken from a town by a coal mine soon swings into a fast, toe-tapping beat. It's representative of the whole album; the grimmer or sadder a song is, the more cheerful and upbeat the music driving it.

Far from softening the impact of songs like "Lonesome Road Blues," the contrast between the lonesome lyrics and the fast-paced tune makes the blue feeling of the song more immediate. The amiable nature of heartbreak songs like "Three Days Deep Forever Wide" and the surprisingly sad "Wings of an Eagle" makes their glum message somehow comforting. These are songs of commiseration, not straight misery, that give you room to wallow and dance at the same time.

For every sad song with a soaring tune, there's to be a joyous song with a tune of lead. "Sin's Dark Valley" fulfills the religious requirements of a bluegrass album, but the plodding tune turns it into an energy vacuum. Hurst shows off his deep voice on "Widow's Weeds," a song that dares to condemn the romantic convention of pining away for lost love. "Seven Year Blues" straddles the line between despair and resignation, as a once lovelorn singer honors the seventh anniversary of his abandonment. The trilling banjo brings a strange feeling of peace to the song.

Hurst doesn't try to overproduce his songs or weigh them down with unnecessary acrobatics of voice or instrument. This is straightforward bluegrass, loaded with plenty of twang and soul. A few classics are thrown in with the new songs. Marty Robbin's "Big Iron" is given the bluegrass treatment, and I almost like Hurst's version better. Hurst also creates a surprisingly good version of "Danny Boy," with mournful, minimal guitar work and soft vocal treatment in the bluegrass style. Hurst's voice, low and earnest with more than a hint of twang, is made for the genre, and his guitar picking is a perfect accompaniment. One of the minor treasures of the album is "Stafford's Stomp," a tune in honor of guitarist Tim Stafford. Stafford actually contributes a second guitar, and the "dueling guitars" are a highlight on an album that's already great fun.

Loaded with memorable songs and guitar work that could drive a sales convention to dance, Second Son is a fine, solid bluegrass album. It's unlikely to make converts of those who don't like bluegrass, but stands as proof that those poor souls are wrong.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 10 May 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.