James King,
Thirty Years of Farming
(Rounder, 2002)

I first heard James King in 1995 on the terrific compilation album Handpicked: 25 Years of Rounder Bluegrass, and I nearly did myself an injury leaping to turn up the volume as King sang "Leaving." "This," I announced to my wife, "Is what real bluegrass should sound like." Hearing the entire album "Leaving" originally appeared on (These Old Pictures), collecting his subsequent CDs and seeing King live have done nothing to change my mind. Neither does Thirty Years of Farming.

Like all of King's Rounder albums, this release is a shrewd mixture of new material and fresh-sounding covers. Writer Fred Eaglesmith brings his usual incisiveness to the sadly perrenial subject of losing the family farm on the title track. Other highlights include "I Don't See What I Once Saw," written by Tom T. Hall, Connie and Babe's "Toil, Tears and Trouble," and an old George Jones classic from his pre-Nashville Sound days, "Color of the Blues."

All of the cuts on Thirty Years of Farming are delivered with taste and precision by King's road band, who get a chance to step out on a rare instrumental, "Whoopin' It." But the true star of Thirty Years of Farming is, as always, James King's voice -- with the possible exception of Ralph Stanley's, the most flat-out soulful voice in bluegrass today. Once you've heard it, you'll agree: This is what bluegrass should sound like.

[ by Chris Simmons ]
Rambles: 14 September 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.