Tuesday, November 11, 2014

CD Review: Crowe, Lawson & Williams - STANDING TALL AND TOUGH

Image635513000831905809A few years back, in keeping with the rulebook governing the average male's mid-life crisis, I purchased a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28. Yes, it was as sweet as the picture that just popped into your head. One of my challenges, aside from avoiding speeding tickets, was finding someone that knew how to work on these no-frills, all gas and guts, non-computer assisted muscle cars.

I managed to find the perfect guy. He had worked as a factory trained mechanic at a Chevrolet dealership from the early 60's through the early 90's. He was as happy to be able to work on a “real” car as I was to put my trust in him. He knew how and why that car was built and knew how to extract every ounce of horsepower it had to give. No doubt, old school.


I was pleasantly surprised when I received a copy of STANDING TALL AND TOUGH  for review. On the front cover are three of the most prominent bluegrass musicians in existence. Living legends is a better description of J.D Crowe, Paul Williams and Doyle Lawson. The last wave of rumors that Crowe had retired are again proven false. Doyle Lawson is still out on the road banging out his distinguishable style of Quicksilver bluegrass. Paul Williams hasn't Image635513012086560750been heard from in the mainstream of airplay or seen on the national touring routes since his days as one of The Sunny Mountain Boys with Jimmy Martin. In fact, all three of these gents did time as a “Sunny Mountain Boy” at some point early on in their careers. Crowe from 1956-60, Williams from 1957-62 and Doyle 1963-66.

Perhaps you'll agree that The Sunny Mountain Boys were the muscle car band of that era. What better way to learn the; in your face, key of B, hit it hard boys, shoutin' harmony, mash on it son, string busting style of bluegrass than to tour with Jimmy Martin for a few years. Talk about being factory trained! You've heard the stories of what went on backstage and on stage. Can you even imagine the stories of what went on in that bus between gigs? No doubt an old school education for every sideman ( or woman) that ever had the opportunity to perform with Jimmy Martin. Love him or despise him, one must admit that he kicked the drive and dynamic factor of up a few notches. That style is evident in the musical renderings of all three of these men and is unmistakably present in this recording.

There is a definite vibe going on here. It is original. Close your eyes and you'll hear three twenty year old, high-octane bluegrass machines of a previous era gathered around a single mic pushing the envelope of speed, drive and vocal horsepower. In the liner notes Doyle Lawson is almost apologetic about the approach taken in recording this project. Even the title of the CD, Doyle worries that Standing Tall and Tough “...may appear to some as boisterous or even belligerent, but it's not!” He further writes “...after all the years of being involved in music, the love we have for it has not diminished at all. The joy of being onstage or in the recording studio is a feeling beyond words for us.” If this is what boisterous and belligerent sounds like, sign me up.

Upon listening you will hear the now standard “My Walkin' Shoes Don't Fit Me Anymore” co-written by Paul Williams and Jimmy Martin. In fact six of the cuts on this project were either written, co-written or arranged by Paul Williams. Most know about Image635513018911222186J.D. and Doyle's contribution to bluegrass music. I am hoping that this CD will allow the emerging generation of bluegrass followers to gain an appreciation for the talents and contributions of Paul Williams, instrumentally and vocally as well as his prolific songwriting. There are two Louvin Brother's songs on this CD “Do You Live What You Preach” and “Insured Beyond The Grave.” They do Charles and Ira right with Doyle singing lead, J.D. singing baritone and Paul singing lead & tenor.

Doyle plays guitar on this CD and lets Paul handle the mandolin work. J.D. as always, Is solid as a rock on banjo. Helping out are Josh Swift on Dobro, Jason Barie on fiddle and Tim Surrett on bass.

If you've endured previous review's of mine, you know that I seldom give a track by track ( sorry Kyle) breakdown ( sorry Earl) of every cut on the CD. If you buy it, and in this particular case I think you should, I don't want to play spoiler to some of the great music on this release. That said, I want to call attention to one more cut on the album. Paul William's rendition of the classic “Fraulein” alone is worth the price of admission. It is instantly 1957 as one of the era's best songs is sung by a bluegrass great. Paul Williams nails it.

As with my midlife crisis car mechanic, these ol' boys know how to coax every once of horsepower out of a bluegrass song. Factory trained. Gear heads have a mantra regarding horsepower. It goes like this: “...some is good, more is better... and too much....is just right”.

So here we are in 2014 listening to a musical style, within a musical style, that has been infused into these three men over the last 50 to 60 years. No frills, no pretense, no fluff.

No doubt old school. No doubt Standing Tall And Tough. These old guys really do rule, and that, folks, is just right.

Reviewed for Prescription Bluegrass by Marty Warburton / PreWarBone@gmail.com


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