Album Review

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - The Original Band

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - The Original Band

First, the facts: These two CDs collect four of the most influential bluegrass albums ever made. For anyone with an interest in bluegrass (as opposed to an individual artist here and there), they are required listening. Why? Because Doyle Lawson and his bands created and elaborated on a new sound that was put together so beautifully, with such attention to detail, and with such a range of material, that it stood between tradition and innovation in just the right place to make musical, intellectual and emotional sense to virtually an entire generation of musicians. The self-titled album that makes up the first half of The Original Band was released in late 1979. Lawson was a veteran mandolin player who had spent the preceding seven years with the Country Gentlemen. He assembled his own band by picking up two members of a group he had produced a year earlier and a fiddler who, a couple years earlier, had switched over to banjo in Ricky Skaggs' and Jerry Douglas' Boone Creek. These three musicians turned out to suit Lawson just about perfectly. Quicksilver laid down a charging rhythm rooted in classic bluegrass styles, yet with a new, almost rocking dimension, thanks in equal measure to the frontman's crisp mandolin, Jimmy Haley's solid rhythm guitar, Lou Reid's thumping, sometimes syncopated electric bass, and Terry Baucom's driving banjo. On top of that, the vocal strength of the band was second to none, with Haley's slightly somber lead tone balanced by Reid's high, pure tenor (then without a trace of the huskiness of more recent years), Lawson's distinctive tone and vocal flexibility, and, more than occasionally, Baucom's stolid bass singing. All of these were on display from the first song on their first album. "Mighty Mississippi" began with an a cappella quartet passage, after which the rhythm came barreling in like a bullet train, the Haley-Reid-Lawson trio pealing out over it with a spirit that belied the number's New Christy Minstrels origin, bolstered by fiery solos from Lawson and guest fiddler Bobby Hicks. Bluegrass was never the same after that. The remainder of the self-titled debut and its follow-up, Quicksilver Rides Again, applied these strengths to a dizzying variety of material, from Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs to folk-rocker Jonathan Edwards to country star Don Williams and country-popster Terri Gibbs. Even Dave Loggins' "A Touch Of Pennsylvania" was turned into a bluegrass tour de force, while Quicksilver's version of "He Put A Rainbow In The Clouds For Me" set a new standard for a cappella gospel quartets. By the time Lawson cut Once And For Always, Reid had left to join Ricky Skaggs' country band. He was replaced by former Bluegrass Cardinal Randy Graham, a singer with a voice no less high but perhaps even more passionate than Reid's. When Graham cut loose on "Julie Ann" or Gene Watson's "Speak Softly, You're Talking To My Heart", the effect was electric. No less exciting was Lawson's fondness for melding black and southern gospel styles, embodied here by a stunning version of the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet's "A Lover Of The Lord". The News Is Out marked a complete change in personnel, though not in the Quicksilver sound, the outlines of which were by now well-established. Haley, Baucom and Graham had left to form their own group, and Lawson turned to a Texas-based band, Southern Connection, hiring three of its four members: Russell Moore, Scott Vestal and Curtis Vestal. After an all-gospel album, Curtis Vestal departed, replaced by Ray Deaton, establishing a lineup that remained unchanged for the next few years. Moore, who went on to become the leading male bluegrass vocalist of the '90s, had a softer, more delicate turn to his voice than his predecessors, while Deaton's bass voice was even more deeply rumbling than Baucom's. Vestal, a supremely inventive banjoist whose creativity was directed down a narrow channel by Lawson, contributed "Up On The Blue Ridge", just about the only instrumental in Quicksilver's catalog. Like the previous albums, The News Is Out contained an eclectic mix of material but a single signature sound. As the start of a string of albums by this lineup, it makes an appropriate ending point for these reissues.