Nashville Bluegrass Band,
Twenty Year Blues
(Sugar Hill, 2004)

The Nashville Bluegrass Band is alive and well and healthy after 20 years, and this CD celebrating their two decades together is one of their best, incorporating traditional bluegrass and old-time songs and tunes while having one foot firmly planted in the present.

When it comes to sheer musicianship, the NBB is tough to beat, since each man is at the top when it comes to his chosen instrument. Add to those individual skills the instrumental and vocal blend that comes as the result of having worked with each other for years, and this aggregation stands head and shoulders above most other bluegrass bands. There's also an ease about their music that is irresistible. The voices, whether solo or ensemble, sound as relaxed and confident as though they're just sitting on the back porch, sharing their music together on another Saturday night or lazy Sunday afternoon.

Every track could be considered a highlight, but some stand out as even brighter diamonds. Autry Inman's "That's All Right" is the perfect example of how the high lonesome sound can seem effortless with the right voices (in this case Mike Compton's and Pat Enright's), a consummate back porch song. That casual spirit is heard instrumentally on several tracks, including "Pretty Red Lips," a Compton original that sounds a hundred years old. Each man takes his licks, and we're reminded once again of their profound chops. It's two minutes that contains the best of bluegrass, supported throughout by Dennis Crouch's solid bass playing.

A Bill Dale song, "Luckiest Man Alive," tells of the plight of Vietnam vets, and Pat Enright's heartfelt vocal delivers the goods nicely, while Stuart Duncan's always brilliant fiddle sobs along in sympathy. The band displays their vocal worth with "Hush," a traditional spiritual accompanied only by guitar. The harmonies are awe-inspiring. Bill Carlisle and Lonnie Glosson's "Rockin' Chair Money" is an off-the-wall song about another vet, this one from World War II, who's content to live on his veteran's benefits. It goes down as smooth as a mint julep on a hot day.

The instrumental showcase is the Bill Monroe gem, "Crossing the Cumberlands," which starts with Alan O'Bryant's banjo, segues into Compton's mandolin, under which Duncan's fiddle softly creeps before taking its own eerie, lilting solo. There's a bit of haunting harmonic interplay before it drifts away like smoke over the mountain.

It's been six years since the NBB's last album, but if it takes that long to get a nigh-perfect CD like this one, it's worth the wait. I only hope the band won't wait until their silver anniversary to grace the bluegrass world with another.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 7 May 2005

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