A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Kerry Dexter
A tight, energetic bluegrass quintet that incorporates jazz, traditional folk, and other musical influences into the bluegrass sound--that's Northern Lights. "We love bluegrass" says lead singer/mandolinist Taylor Armerding, "but we also love a lot of other things. And we think most of them mix pretty well together."
He's right. Eight of the twelve tracks on this disc are originals, with tunes by John Pennell (Give me back Tomorrow, Climb a Tall Mountain), Lorin Rowan (Soldier of the Cross), and Paul Mellyn (Guns of November) added for good measure. Guns of November is perhaps the most haunting track on the disc, with the interplay of instruments and vocals brought to a fine edge.
Of the originals, Bill Henry's jazzy The Sunny Side of Blue and Walking Away (a song about the pain of leaving) are especially notable. Henry penned the project's only instrumental cut (Ray of Hope), as well. He adds his take on the conflicting pull of job and family in Fisherman's Lament.
Taylor Armerding shows a flair for vocal and musical hooks with the title cut, Wrong Highway Blues. Armerding's skill with this is also evident in the tune the group chose to open the album, Living Without You. The song is a meeting of bluegrass tradition and newgrass exploration, and a great opener. Banjo player Mike Kropp adds a musical mystery tour with his contribution Bus Stop.
Fans of the high lonesome sound associated with bluegrass will enjoy the instrumental skills of the group, especially the fiddle work of Jake Armerding on his first recording with Northern Lights. Those who enjoy the newgrass style- or just good acoustic music-will take to the original songs recorded here.
Northern Lights is based in Massachusetts, and this is their third disc. Taylor Armerding sings lead and harmony and plays mandolin, Mike Kropp plays banjo, Bill Henry plays guitar and sings harmony and lead, Jeff Horton is the bassist and sings lead and harmony, and Jake Armerding sings harmony and plays fiddle.