The first track of Barry Abernathy and Darrell Webb present Appalachian Road Show features a stoic monologue from a gentle voice that describes just what we can expect to find in the ten gorgeous songs that follow, and in a rare twist of fate I would say this is one introduction you shouldn’t skip over. Abernathy and Webb created Appalachian Road Show as a means of paying homage to the origins of bluegrass, and alongside Grammy Award-winning fiddler Jim VanCleve they do just that. As the monologue fades away and the searing “Little Black Train” comes steaming towards us at full power, it becomes quite clear that Appalachian Road Show are much more than a countrified acoustic duo looking to capitalize on a new wave of interest in Americana.
The fire and fury of “Little Black Train” is fueled by the impenetrable grooves being dispatched left and right by the mandolin and the banjo, which fight for our attention even more viciously as we transition into “Dance, Dance, Dance” (a fun cover of the Steve Miller song of the same name), the guttural, spiritual stomp of “Broken Bones” and the easy-going “Milwaukee Blues.” This portion of Appalachian Road Show’s first album is devoted to demonstrating Abernathy and Webb’s creative depth and skillful showmanship, which arguably is more on-point here than it has been in any of their previous solo works.
The mix of this record is unforgivingly raw and physical. “Old Greasy Coat” is tangibly vibrant, stretching out the treble-drenched glass box it’s presented to us in and spilling through our stereo speakers into our reality. Whether VanCleve is seasoning the licks with a dash of ferocious fiddle play or Abernathy and Webb are going at each other with strings and soulful songcraft in tuneful speed-ballads like “Georgia Buck” or the more contemplative “Piney Mountains,” the energy is potent, untamable and wildly undisciplined – but never do they strike us as amateurish or too eccentric in their ambitions.
The closing trio of “Anna Lee,” “Lovin’ Babe” and “I Am Just a Pilgrim” come across as being much more emotionally charged and insular than what the first two thirds of Barry Abernathy and Darrell Webb present Appalachian Road Show is. The bluesy swing of the earlier tracks is replaced with a pensive, almost retrospective tone that implies regret and sorrow. The major key in “Anna Lee” isn’t enough to moderate the blow of its lyrical punch, while “Lovin’ Babe” is led by a yearning vocal that is as memorable as anything I’ve reviewed this year in pop music. As it nears completion in “I Am Just a Pilgrim,” this album starts to take on a much more confessional angle that adds to its homespun feel tremendously.
Even though its pace could be somewhat challenging for more novice fans of bluegrass music to keep up with, the first collaborative release by Abernathy and Webb as Appalachian Road Show is nevertheless an exquisite glimpse into the enchantingly diverse culture that its titular region is so well known for. We’re beholden to shades of Celtic folk music, blues, country, swing and untrimmed Americana within ten fabulously produced tracks that each make use of a different aspect of the players’ skills, and despite its sterling length and plethora of content, there really isn’t any filler to be avoided in this track listing. The lingering reverberation of the strings will haunt you like a tortured southern ghost, but its echoing melodies will likely be what most listeners won’t forget anytime soon.
BILLY BLUE RECORDS: http://Billybluerecords.com/