Locust Ridge,
(Rural Rhythm Christian, 2013)

Lou Reid & Carolina,
20th Anniversary Concert
(KMA, 2013)

The two CDs up for review have nothing particularly in common except that both are current bluegrass releases by bands worth hearing. In various configurations (among them Ricky Skaggs's band and the Seldom Scene) Lou Reid, a vocalist, guitarist and mandolinist, has been an active and respected presence in the genre for quite a while. As the title indicates, Lou Reid & Carolina, whose lineup includes his wife Christy (vocals, bass), have been together in one form or another for two decades. On the other hand, Locust Ridge is new to bluegrass stages and studios.

20th Anniversary is a live album, taped at the Down Home in Johnson City, Tenn. Live recordings typically suffer from the inclusion of stage chatter that, however friendly or funny, loses its novelty after the first spin or two. Thus, be warned. The music, on the other hand, is good, modern 'grass performed by veterans who've honed exceptional harmonies and know decent songs. If you like the Seldom Scene, you'll like Carolina, made up of four members (the Reids, banjo man Trevor Watson and guitarist Kevin Richardson, plus guest artist Justin Moses on fiddle and dobro).

These aren't exactly backwoods mountain folk. One cut, Marshall Wilborn's "Mountain Girl," quotes Bob Dylan's "Time Passes Slowly" (a reference I suspect most of its listeners will miss). "Amanda Lynn," by James Cain and Ronny Vines, is the band's most famous song; its original version rose high in the bluegrass charts and won some awards, including Song of the Year, from the organized bluegrass community. Speak the title aloud three times and you'll hear the pun. The Stanley Brothers' doleful, lovable chestnut "She's More to be Pitied" is revived in a nice arrangement. Paul Overstreet and Marty Brown's "I Couldn't Find My Walking Shoes," covered earlier by the Seldom Scene, is a honkytonk heartbreaker of exceptional imagination.

At the end of the set, Christy Reid announces, "I could use a drink." Somehow I doubt that Locus Ridge, a four-man gospel ensemble from East Tennessee, concludes its concerts thus. The liner notes reveal that members regard theirs as a ministry as much as a musical ensemble. Much, possibly most, takes place inside evangelical churches, not least one in the mountain hometown from which the group takes its name. Locus Ridge -- the band, that is -- consists of three brothers named Allen (Russell, Josh and Larry) and longtime friend Andy Blalock.

Bluegrass musician and producer Steve Gulley discovered them, got them signed to Rural Rhythm Christian, and guided them in the studio, bringing in a number of experienced performers to fill out the sound. The result is Healed, a very pleasant and inspired collection of sacred songs, about half of them originals written or co-written by Russell Allen. The approach is not so rural as one might expect, however. Locust Ridge's approach is more mellow (albeit not in an off-puttingly slick way) than hard-driving, sung to arrangements -- always acoustic but sometimes only marginally bluegrass -- that put the vocals and the messages to the forefront.

Whatever your religious convictions (if any), you''ll respect Locust Ridge's professionalism and ability to communicate feeling and conviction, which is where all music worthy of the name begins. I know this album passed my personal taste test: I've listened to it a lot and enjoyed it every time.

music review by
Jerome Clark

19 October 2013

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