Album Review

Longview - Lessons In Stone

Longview - Lessons In Stone

Longview is a bluegrass supergroup first summoned into existence three albums ago by Rounder Records' Ken Irwin, so there's presumably a story of sorts behind the band's new label affiliation. Whatever it is, the sextet has produced its most compelling collection yet, one that looks to be among the best in a promising year for the genre. Though its members share influences and enthusiasms common to all bluegrassers, Longview tends to highlight other ones -- mostly songs and groups associated with the two regions where its members rose to prominence. Glen Duncan, Joe Mullins and Don Rigsby come from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana bluegrass belt, so on this CD we get the Boys From Indiana's "You Can Mark It Down" and "Across The Sea Blues", a Jimmy Martin song from his days in the area in the early 1950s. The Maryland-DC-Virginia region, home to Dudley Connell, James King and Marshall Wilborn, gets its due with a couple of songs from the Country Gentlemen's John Duffey and Tom Gray, as well as Reno & Smiley's "Never Get To Hold You In My Arms Anymore". Too much can be made of this socio-geographic theme, but it gives the album and the group a kind of distinctive flavor that's all too often missing in even the best renditions of more universal classics. Set off by the older material is the title track, a new Tom T. & Dixie Hall composition that ranks with the best of their entire catalog. Carried by a supple tune that slides effortlessly between country and bluegrass outlines, it offers a characteristically fresh, straightforward yet elegant graveyard meditation on what counts in life. The playing is inspired, the harmonies true and powerful, and Rigsby's soulful high lead delivers the story with convincing empathy. It's the highlight of the album, but the rest is just about as good.