Pandemic or not, everyone seems to be busy this time of 12 months, so I’ll get straight to the purpose:
Swing For The Fences, from Phil Leadbetter and the All Stars of Bluegrass, is my favourite bluegrass challenge of 2020.
There have been many excellent tasks, in fact, however to my ear, none reached fairly as excessive as this one on the Pinecastle label.
It’s not simply the knowledgeable choosing – what else would you anticipate from all-stars comparable to Leadbetter, Jason Burleson and Alan Bibey, with visitor fiddling from Stuart Duncan and Tim Crouch – the wonderful vocals from Steve Gulley, Robert Hale and Bibey, or the collection of 10 stellar songs.
Typically, a challenge is simply good for the occasions. This assortment, in a time of hardship and loss, hope and redemption, is simply the appropriate challenge for 2020. The ten songs hit the entire emotional touchstones. Nice music does that.
That stated, this highly effective CD is bittersweet, and exhausting for me to take heed to, figuring out the backstory. Shortly after the band was within the studio, and earlier than the CD was launched, bass participant and singer Steve Gulley died of pancreatic most cancers. It nonetheless doesn’t appear actual.
The ache is nearly palpable on Yesterday’s Gone. The music has a fairy story starting – as soon as upon a time there was tomorrow – that will get dashed on the rocks of actuality – tomorrow grew to become yesterday, and now it’s gone. The duet additionally has the excellence of being the final of many songs that Steve and his spouse Debbie Gulley sang collectively within the studio. And if that’s not sufficient, Leadbetter makes his resonator guitar cry, as if in tribute to his finest buddy.
Different songs appeared tailored for this terrible 12 months, together with The Hurtin’ When You Go and Occasions Are Robust on the draw back, and the optimistic I’m Gonna Make It After All, No Finish To This Highway, which implores us to make the very best of issues whereas we are able to, and the energetic title lower, which options a few of Uncle Phil’s most-inventive taking part in.
For good measure, there’s a excessive velocity Gospel quantity, Prepared and Ready, with a message to not take something with no consideration, made particularly poignant by Steve’s premature passing. And a wonderful instrumental, Avery Stokes, that places every of those gifted pickers entrance and heart. Steve was a religious Christian, so there’s consolation in figuring out that he was prepared when his time got here.
There’s one thing right here for everybody, even for these not lucky sufficient to know and love Steve Gulley, and to have shared his orbit for some time. The challenge is a robust reminder that music heals, even when generally it makes you cry.
Leadbetter and the All Stars are already planning their subsequent document, with Gena Britt on bass. They’ll have their palms full, not simply because Steve is gone however as a result of this challenge is so, so sturdy.
However All Stars are stars for a purpose. They dig in. They ship beneath strain. I wouldn’t guess towards them when the “document” button lights up.