Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road,
Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road
(Pinecastle, 2013)

On their eponymous first release since signing with Pinecastle, veteran bluegrassers Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road deliver a solid dozen songs and tunes in a traditional vein. If this isn't a hard-core mountain sound, it's close enough for the 21st century. The band resists any temptation to compromise or sweeten its approach with pop notes and licks. Bluegrass fans of just about any persuasion will enjoy what they hear here.

In most ways bluegrass -- in common with blues, for example -- is something of a circumscribed genre. It traffics in the familiar (thematically, that's home, church, love, murder). Consequently, whatever surprises one encounters tend to be relatively minor ones. Bluegrass bands come armed with acoustic instruments, the occasional electric bass aside: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, stand-up bass, rarely percussion. Though the songs and tunes are simple on paper, the trick is in the performance: the picking, the singing and the harmonies, which are often intricate. As with jazz, if you can't do bluegrass right, you shouldn't do it at all. It's harder, certainly more sophisticated, than it looks.

Jordan and her boys are on top of it all, not the least strong material, and not the least of that a dazzlingly hard-driving, mandolin-driven "Liza Jane," which closes the proceedings. The opener, "That's Kentucky," is from the pen of the ubiquitous Dixie & Tom T. Hall, demonstrably incapable of writing a mediocre song even if this one is yet another of the uncountable tributes to the Bluegrass State. You can't go wrong with the cut that follows, "Living with the Shades Pulled Down," not when the composing credits belong to Boudleaux Bryant, Felice Bryant and -- unexpectedly -- Merle Haggard. The Bryants wrote many of the Everly Brothers hits, not to mention the Osborne Brothers' immortal "Rocky Top," and as for Haggard ... well, you know. The band has a whole lot of fun with the song, a celebration of delirious sexual pleasure -- as is, come to think of it, "Rocky Top."

On the other side, band members Tommy Long and Joshua Goforth contribute an affecting gospel number, "I Saw the Golden Stairs." On his own Goforth manages to conjure up a fresh heart metaphor -- in this instance, "Suitcase of Your Heart," which fully pleases. "Song of the French Broad" is from oldtime-banjo master Obray Ramsey. On first reading the title, I confess to a certain startlement. Silly me; as a non-North Carolinian, I failed to grasp that the French Broad is a river that cuts through the state. Ramsey employs its image in a kind of folk-ballad Carolina history lesson, and Jordan and the band deftly transform it into bluegrass.

If bluegrass done the good old way is what you're looking for, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road provide it in a form you won't soon tire of.

music review by
Jerome Clark

31 August 2013

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