Blue Highway | Through the Window of a Train (Rounder)

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cd_blue-highway.jpgMany of the songs have a definite storytelling aspect that seem to fit in well with the "sittin' on the porch" nature of bluegrass.

 

 

 

What happens when some of the best session players and backup band members of bluegrass' biggest-name artists get together and form their own band? You get one of the best contemporary bluegrass bands ever, Blue Highway. Made up of key players from such acts as Alison Krauss + Union Station and Ricky Skaggs, Blue Highway came together in the mid-1990s and have been a force of their own ever since.

Blue Highway's latest and seventh album, Through the Window of a Train, delivers more timeless bluegrass goodness that the band has become known for. Most of the songs stick with the themes of the life of a simple man living in the heartland of America. Songs like "Homeless Man" and "Two Soldiers" deal with the aftermath of war and the long-reaching effects it has on a soldier and his family, while the title track reminisces about how a boy first learned about the bigger world outside of the one he knew by traveling on the train his father worked on. In the song he also becomes aware that there is more to his father than just being his dad: he is also an important and well-known man along the rail line. Many of the songs have a definite storytelling aspect that seem to fit in well with the "sittin' on the porch" nature of the bluegrass music backing them; case in point, "Sycamore Hollow" is a Civil War-era narrative complete with references to Sherman's Army.

Instrumentation, though, is where the album really stands out. Though each band member is an all star on their respective instruments, they come together in a very selfless way to make one big sound. Wayne Taylor and Tim Stafford trade off with lead vocal duties, each with a distinctive voice that fits with the song he is singing. However, where the vocals really stand out is when the other members kick in as well, bringing true four-part harmony that engulfs the listener. Though "The North Cove" is one of the only instrumentals on the album, nearly every song has a jam session inside of it. Shawn Lane has an amazing mandolin solo on "Sycamore Hollow," and seven-time IBMA Dobro Performer of the Year award winner Rob Ickes stands out throughout the album. Jason Burleson provides a strong backdrop of banjo work for all these elements.

What makes this album great is even though the sound is familiar and themes of Americana have been seen before, the band pulls it off with such conviction that it feels fresh. The listener feels like they are meeting an old and familiar friend for the first time. A | Ryan Parker

RIYL: Allison Kraus + Union Station, Nickel Creek, Ricky Skaggs

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