James Reams
& Walter Hensley,
The Barons of Bluegrass
(Copper Creek, 2002)

If you're into authentic bluegrass, then The Barons of Bluegrass is right up your alley. This album features James Reams on vocals and Walter Hensley on banjo, both accompanied by the Barons of Bluegrass band. This album should be titled The BRISK Barons of Bluegrass 'cause they don't slow down much on this mix of traditional and new bluegrass songs.

Hensley has a clear and precise way of picking the banjo that makes a pretty unique sound. Check out the instrumental "Lady Liberty," written by Hensley, in which he displays his strong sense of control while modifying the tempo along the way. Hensley's banjo-picking career spans more than four decades, but he obviously hasn't let time slow him down.

Reams seems up to the task as his vocals keep right on pace with Hensley's banjo. Reams's voice is a higher-pitched baritone drawl that fits right in with the mood. The problem is, it sometimes fits in so well that the lyrics are sometimes indistinguishable. One such song is "Who's Going Downtown" -- the pace is nice and fast but Reams gets carried away with his twang that he's difficult to understand at times.

However, don't let a little drawl keep you from keeping up with the Barons. In songs like "Upper Elk Creek," "Can't Win, Can't Place, Can't Show" and "Walking In Old-Time Religion," these guys keep the speed going. There are also slower songs, like "Lonesome Old Home," "Brush Arbor" and "The Lost and Found," that provide welcome breaks from the frantic pace.

As a whole, everything just meshes well together and keeps gusto going from song to song. The Barons of the Bluegrass is a good choice for any who like a bluegrass album with a fast banjo and a lot of twang.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 15 February 2003