One Lonely Shadow (Review)
by Joshua Heston and Dale Grubaugh
With a title of “one lonely shadow” and accompanying artwork of full moons and hanging trees, the Kentucky-based band Blue Moon Rising gives every impression of an established group bent on a haunting, high lonesome sound with an extra portion of hard-driving ’grass thrown in for good measure.
The effort largely does not disappoint.
One Lonely Shadow represents the group in 2008 which included Chris Garrett and Harold Nixon, both now of The Boxcars, Justin Jenkins and Mike Bubb.
Randy Kohrs and Dale Ann Bradley also contribute. Founding member of Blue Moon Rising, Chris West remains with the current iteration of the group.
West, known for his soulful baritone and impressive writing, authored or co-wrote four of the 13 tracks, including The Hanging Tree.
Possibly the strongest of all 13 tracks, Hanging Tree is dark, deeply melodic, powerful. The means by which each story — the song contains a triptych of gruesome hangings — is both masculine and devoid of a maudlin sense of sympathy.
By the end of the song, the hanging tree itself has become a personality, not to mention the inspiration for much of the album’s eye-catching artwork by Jami Anderson and Jason Jones.
I Grew Up Today, also written by West specifically for Keith Garrett embodies an emotional narrative combined with solid country sensibilities strongly reminiscent of Keith Whitley.
Upbeat selections include Angeline — which drives forward with a solid mandolin chop, gorgeous dobro solo, and the promise of true love — while Good Time For Going Home, written and sung by West, speaks of family and love:
The sun is shining and the birds are singing / on a Carolina morning bright and clear
I can’t wait to pull into the driveway / and hold you and the babies to me near
It’s a good time for going home...
Brilliant mandolin solos and a light-hearted drive bring substance to Five More Days of Rain, a song of flood and ruin.
Blue Moon Rising, Stone Cold Loneliness, and Where There’s A Road are respectable cornbread-and-butter bluegrass while Freight Train’s simple lyrics are brought to life with driving, yet surprisingly delicate arrangements including excellent bass playing by Mike Bubb and charged vocals by West.
Only the very confident or the very foolish cover material by the likes of Bruce Springsteen (Youngstown) or songwriters’ songwriter, the late Townes Van Zandt (Marie). The simple fact that Keith Garrett’s vocals and Tim Crouch’s fiddle embodies Springsteen’s lament to lost American industry workers is proof of these boys’ talent.
“We’re a bluegrass band and we love bluegrass music, obviously. But some of the songs like Youngstown and I Will Come Back Again were outside our realm and we’re kinda happy with the way they turned out,” notes West.
Two selections competing with Hanging Tree for strength includes the afore-mentioned Van Zandt’s Marie, a personal, heart-wrenching narrative of poverty and death as well as Revival, co-written by Chris West and Steve Gulley (who also sings harmony vocals on this track).
Led in by the crying sounds of fiddle and focal point mandolin chop, Chris West leads vocals on Revival, a song which — in lesser hands — could have devolved into a tedious lesson of morality.
Infused with emotion and respect, however, the song charts territory between the Biblical story of Ezekiel and a call for personal revival. It’s Sunday School all grown up.
Verlon Thompson’s song I Will Come Back Again proves Blue Moon Rising saved some of the best for last.
Ostensibly a song of reincarnation, I Will Come Back Again explores the question, “When you’re gone, what is left?” as mused by Garrett, who sings lead. “Even when I sing that song, I think about the idea that there’s a way to live on as a musician,” he continues.
Heartfelt love and hate, despair and joy, One Lonely Shadow represents some of the best of contemporary bluegrass.
October 6, 2011
IMAGES courtesy of BLUE MOON RISING & LONESOME DAY RECORDS. Artwork by JAMI ANDERSON, JASON JONES & MARK CORNELISON.
• KEITH GARRETT, lead & harmony vocals, guitar & mandolin • CHRIS WEST, lead & harmony vocals, guitar & mandolin • JUSTIN JENKINS, banjo • MIKE BUBB, bass • TIM CROUCH, fiddle • RANDY KOHRS, resonator guitar, harmony vocals: tracks 4 & 5 • CODY KILBY, guitar: tracks 6, 7, 8 & 13 • HAROLD NIXON, bass: track 11 • STEVE GULLEY, harmony vocals: track 2 & 10 • DALE ANN BRADLEY, harmony vocals: track 10
JAMIDESIGN.COM, LONESOMEDAY.COM, BLUEMOONRISINGBAND.COM
SONG TRACK & WRITERS
- Angeline, Keith Garrett
- The Hanging Tree, Chris West
- I Grew Up Today, Chris West
- Blue Moon Rising, Ronnie Bowman, Don Cook and Ronnie Rogers
- Freight Train, Fred John Elgarsma
- Stone Cold Loneliness, Bill Castle
- Youngstown, Bruce Springsteen
- Marie, Townes Van Zandt
- Five More Days of Rain, Chris West
- Revival, Chris West and Steve Gulley
- Where There’s A Road, Robert Fulks
- Good Time For Going Home, Chris West
- I Will Come Back Again, Verlon Thompson