Jesse McReynolds & the Virginia Boys,
New Horizons
(Pinecastle, 2004)

This is Jesse McReynolds's first solo album after the 2002 death of his brother Jim, and the songs are pretty dour and sad throughout. Despite the title, New Horizons seems to be a sad farewell from Jesse to Jim, filled as it is with so many songs of heartbreak, sorrow and longing for old times. Things are more introspective than intense, and I suppose that's to be expected. After all those years as Jim and Jesse, you can feel the surviving brother searching for a new solo identity and grieving for all that's been lost.

The old standby, "There's More Pretty Girls Than One," gets a fairly laidback reading, as does the honky-tonk flavored "I Won't Be Blue Anymore," on which the voices of Jesse and Charles Whitstein (also of a former brother act) blend together well. "Take Me Back into Your Heart" has nearly the same tempo and feel as its predecessors, and is followed by a ghostly "In the Pines," with a chilling lead vocal and a haunting Bobby Hicks fiddle solo.

It's always good to hear the old Bob Wills classic "Faded Love" done as well as it is here, and there's fine three-part harmony in the chorus of Dan Seals's "The Gambler." Some gorgeous, what sounds like open-string guitar work starts off a dramatic "You'll Find Her Name Written There."

Three Jesse McReynolds originals follow. The first, "She's Coming Home Tonight," is a good minor-key medium-tempo ballad, weakened only by a few less-than-precise harmonies in the chorus; "The Anniversary Song" is a simple, old-fashioned, delightfully maudlin ballad that seems made to be danced to; and "America on Bended Knees" is one of those simplistic songs that will appeal mainly to those who agree with its premise that what America really needs is more Christian prayer and repentance, as well as "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"She's Looking Good" is a grand old weeper and gets a sympathetically weepy reading. Tears keep falling with Pee Wee King's "My Main Trial is Yet To Come," an effective song about a condemned prisoner who's about to die in "the 'lectric chair." There's more misery in this one than in a passel of regular country songs. The Louvin Brothers' "New Country Waltz" continues the aura of sadness without quite recapturing the vocal glories of the original, and things come to a predictably sorrowful end with John Prine's guest appearance on his own "Paradise." His voice brings a gruff authenticity to the song.

There's a sameness to many of these songs that might have been improved by a more judicious track order, and the addition of a few up-tempo songs might have aided the mix. Instrumentals are consistently strong if not sparkling, and the vocals work well for most of the material. Unfortunately so much of that material is so low-key and downbeat that this will be one you'll want to listen to when you've got the blues. Let's hope that Jesse McReynolds's next project adds a few smiles to the tears, and that future horizons are brighter as well as new.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 17 October 2004

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