For the Record by Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers
Gilded string rhythm drives home a sultry melody in “Georgia Slammer,” the closing track of For the Record, and it’s only rivaled by the Gospel-tinged groove of “I Want to Know More About My Lord,” which in itself sees the incomparable Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers flirting with a country-style swing that would serve as more than enough reason to get our hands on the band’s all-new album next month. Elegantly arranged and featuring a highbrow production value that puts the Radio Ramblers’ greatest attributes front and center in the mix, For the Record rockets out of the silence on the whim of the rollicking harmony of “That Old Wheel” and doesn’t stop washing us in colorful melodies of all shapes and sizes as we proceed. There are playful tracks like “Bacon in My Beans,” pointed lyric-centered ballads in “Dreamers Hill” and “A Folded Flag,” and romanticized instrumental journeys into bluegrass’ past with songs like “O-hio,” and while Joe Mullins is one of the most dependable names in all of the genre, he pulls out all the stops in this latest release and proves that he and his band have never been more in sync with each other.
“Acres of Diamonds” might be my favorite song in the entirety of For the Record, but this isn’t because of its tender vocal track alone. Obviously, the singing is as immaculate as scripture from the second that the first verse spills through the strings and welcomes us into the melody with a loving embrace, but the harmony rendered from the understated fiddle in the background is perhaps the most ear-catching element that brings me back to this song time and time again. “Things That I Like” is everything that I want in a hardnosed bluegrass jam unbound by the restrictions that normally dictate mainstream country music, and it’s framed well in the tracklist by the poetic “Here and Now” and the sprawling “Acres of Diamonds.” “A Folded Flag” introduces an emotionally-charged lyricism that will bleed into “Tell Me True,” but the two tracks are easily distinguishable from one another both cosmetically and stylistically. For the Record is a tightly constructed LP, and even with its diverse sonic spectrum, it never comes across as fragmented or lacking a central narrative.
Del McCoury adds his touch to “The Guitar Song,” which is the first single from Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers’ new record and, to be frank, probably one of the hookier tracks on the album. The main focus in this song is the back and forth lyrical exchanges between McCoury and Mullins, but neither of these two icons sell us short on their dynamic direction of the guitar and banjo. If For the Record is a statement piece about where this band currently stands from an artistic point of view, then I think that we haven’t even begun to see what these Ramblers are capable of doing when they’ve got nothing to hold them back in the studio. They’ve racked up their fair share of awards – most notably an IBMA Song of the Year trophy for “If I’d Have Wrote That Song” – but something tells me that Joe Mullins and company still have plenty of valuable gas left in their tank.