Ron Spears &
Within Tradition,
Grandpa Loved the Carolina Mountains
(Copper Creek, 2001)

What you see in the name of the group is what you get -- this is a bluegrass band that is firmly "within tradition," playing traditional bluegrass in which even the Bluegrass Police will find nothing offensive. That doesn't, however, mean it's dull going for those of us who like all kinds of acoustic music. This is a fine collection of a dozen songs and tunes that every bluegrass fan should enjoy.

"Another Last Good-bye" kicks things off in nice style, showing tight harmonies in an up-tempo vocal. There's some flirting with traditional country in "Girl From Boulder," which also flirts with some imperfect rhymes: "Boulder/Hold You" and "Remember/Denver," but it's a catchy song with great singing and a dandy fiddle solo. You'll be playing this one more than once and find youself humming it later. The title track is a nostalgic slice of mountain livin', and "Within Tradition" gives us the first instrumental. It rocks along nicely and contains some solid solos.

The album's low point for this listener was "Little Hands," a maudlin weeper with some forced rhymes and bizarre images ("baby hands dimpled and fat like a pillow" Urgh....) We're back to higher quality with "Dreams About the Hills of Home," which uses a traditional theme with a twist -- while most singers want to come back to the hills of home, this guy never will, and just dreams about it. "Poor Old Monroe" is a blistering minor key mandolin tune, and what better tribute could one offer to the father of bluegrass?

"Never See Mama or Daddy Again" gives us one of those boy-shouldn't-go-to-the-city-cuz-if-he-does-he'll-never-see-Mama-or-Daddy-agin' songs. It's a new composition by Spears (who wrote eight of the twelve cuts here), but sounds like a true old-timey one. "Trail of the Old Lonesome Pine" is another retro song in which Spears and Co. succeed in recreating the golden days. The album ends with an actual vintage song, "I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome," short and sweet and fast and hot and a perfect way to wrap up this collection of rip-roaring traditional bluegrass.

The band consists of Spears on mandolin, Charlie Edsall on guitar, Bruce Johnson on fiddle, Jerry Logan on bass and Hal Horn on banjo. Together they've produced a fine fried chicken dinner of a bluegrass album -- nothing you haven't had before, but always delicious eatin' just the same!

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 3 November 2001

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