Friday, June 1, 2012

CD REVIEW - Carolina Road - Back To My Roots

By W.J. Hallock

Carolina Road - Back To My Roots

Rural Rhythm Records
Released: August, 2011

A bluegrass band with name recognition, a solid fan base and musical credentials has two choices when it comes time to record a new CD. They can seize the opportunity to spread their wings and fly a little higher. They can go a little farther than normal and test the boundaries of their talents and imagination. They can step up their game and take their career to the next level. They can push the competition to try and keep up with THEIR level of excellence. OR…… they can just pull out the “Formula for Recording Bluegrass Music” text book and follow it word for word and step by obligatory step.

On “Back To My Roots,” the latest CD by Carolina Road, it seems they have chosen the latter path. It has some very good moments, but, for the most part, it is uneven, uninspired and ordinary.

In the liner notes, Lorraine states that she and the boys decided to pay homage to their traditional roots this time around. They missed their intended mark….. A lack of talent is NOT the problem here. Each musician has the experience, timing, feel, dexterity and “ears” that are attuned to playing together as a well honed unit. With three lead singers and harmonies that are strong and solid, vocals aren’t a problem either. 

Song selection is the culprit. There are some really good songs here, historical compositions worthy of being remembered and passed on. “Lee Berry Rye” in particular. A few are keepers, but, not all are noteworthy. And two belong on a more contemporary focused project. Those two are stand out songs written and sung by guitarist Tommy Long. “Granny’s Garden” is a medium tempo sweet, smooth two step filled with fond familial memories, and “Cold Carolina Snow” is just plain good in every aspect. They are both favorites, but, they deserve to be somewhere other than on a retro rehash.

There are so many tunes to choose from in bluegrass song books, more diverse and interesting songs than presented here. Not even one waltz can be found….. “Sharecroppers Son” is a great old song, but is there any bluegrass band that hasn’t covered it? The triple fiddles on “I Know You’re Married But I Love You Still” are gorgeous, and played in a dance hall, the floor would be full in a heartbeat. It has been played to death also…… 

Why do so many acts feel they have to take an old song and speed it up to a breakneck tempo just to show off the picker’s hot licks? That’s the case here with “I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome.” Yes, the pickin’ is good, but, the lyrics and melody being sung are devoid of any meaning and feeling when done this fast. How would The Gettysburg Address, normally about two and one half minutes long, sound if recited in under one minute?

Lorraine and her co-producers called on Wesley Easter, of Eastwood Studios, Cana, VA. to record, mix and master this CD. As usual, he did a super job! He has superb finesse and he doesn’t miss a “lick.” His reputation is well deserved and he was a genuine asset to “Back To My Roots.”

Liner notes, to me, are almost as important as the music. It gives me information and data that fill in some of the background holes. It helps to put a face to a name. No where is there a list of who played what, and where. Guest musicians are noted, and there are two pictures of the band, but no names to indicate who is who. I guessed……and deep in the liner notes were some answers, but, I would much rather have had more specific band info than to know who Lorraine’s hair stylist was.

The most enjoyable part of the liner notes are Becky Buller’s comments. Her knowledge and expertise concerning the legends of bluegrass in general, and Carolina Road in particular, and how they intertwine is invaluable. Meaningful, in depth and insightful glimpses of where this music all started make for a very interesting read.

I always try to live with a CD, to catch those little nuances of “WOW!” There are some nice passages here, but, no “WOW!“ It feels repetitious….. and repetition breeds apathy. Carolina Road has a lot going for it, they just need to be focused, completely…… in the future, or the past.


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