Album Review

Del McCoury Band - The Cold Hard Facts

Del McCoury Band - The Cold Hard Facts

The father of bluegrass may have recently passed away, but the high-lonesome bluesiness of Bill Monroe can still be found in the music of the Del McCoury Band. Their recent string of albums for Rounder are perhaps the finest examples of traditional bluegrass in the '90s, and their latest album, titled The Cold Hard Facts, is no exception. After a stint in the Bluegrass Boys as Bill Monroe's lead vocalist and guitarist, Del McCoury went on to form his own band, the Dixie Pals, in the mid-'60s (with the name changing to simply the Del McCoury Band in the late '80s). Since then, Del's sons Ronnie and Rob have joined the group, which also includes bassist Mike Bub and fiddler Jason Carter. Like many of country music's greatest practitioners, Del McCoury favors the darker side of the music, and the material on the new album once again focuses on lost love and human tragedy. The album begins with the title song, a gritty tale of a partner in illicit love who's feeling used, co-written by Ronnie McCoury and Jeff White. Ronnie also wrote the album's sole instrumental (the flashy "Baltimore Jonny"), while Del contributed the bitter "The First Time She Left" and the working-man tribute, "Loggin' Man". It should come as no surprise that the McCoury Band is adept at taking country songs and transforming them into models of traditional bluegrass (as they do here with mournful versions of Jimmy C. Newman's "Blue Darlin'" and the Skeets McDonald-penned "Member Of The Blues"), but it may raise a few eyebrows that they can also do the same to songs such as Robert Cray's "Smoking Gun" and Tom Petty's "Love Is A Long Road". The McCoury Band's performance on "Smoking Gun" is simply stunning, transforming the song into the deepest kind of mountain blues. Del gives an awe-inspiring vocal performance, with his high tenor making some spine-tingling leaps into falsetto. The band also gives the spectacular Petty cover a hard-driving intensity that the original lacked. The record also features a couple of the dark story songs the McCourys do so well. They turn in a harrowing performance on "Henry Walker", the tale of a tragedy-filled hunt for a backwoods murderer, and they do the same for the Willie Nelson hit "Blackjack County Chains", a grim story about an abused chain gang rising up and beating to death the county sheriff. The Del McCoury Band has been consistently acknowledged for its impeccable musicianship, and if anything, the group is tighter than ever on the new album. The vocals of Del and Ronnie epitomize high lonesome, highlighted by Del's blues-inflected phrasing and some of the tightest, most soulful harmonies in bluegrass. Many of country music's deepest traditions live on in bluegrass, and they are very much alive in the mountain soul of the Del McCoury Band, who once again have come through with a masterful exploration of life's cold, hard facts.