Joe Ross is a craftsman. Intrigued by the history of the music as well as the music itself, he puts that craft to use by marrying each song to the genre and era which best suits it. Take, for instance, the combination of bluegrass instruments with calypso to present a child-oriented Good Deeds, a simple look at the pay-it-forward philosophy. Or the use of hammered dulcimer of Hotqua Nights, giving a bit of light dawg jazz what he calls that "gypsy" feel. The straight gospel bluegrass of Desert Gravestrikes deep, inspired by an old deserted desert gravesite in Nevada, the chorus using classic harmonies and fiddle. Goldfield has a Flatt & Scruggs ramble to it, banjo giving way to mandolin giving way to fiddle in '50s and '60s breakdown style. Philosophy rides the fence between the original Kingston Trio and amalgamation of American folk and Irish/Scottish folk music, thanks to the apt and well-done pennywhistle of Radim Zenkl and the very much-in-the-background autoharp of Bryan Bowers. Yes, Joe Ross does know his craft.
To put it together, he brought in the likes of James King, whose understated vocal performance on My Home In Old Virginia is a highlight. Al Brinkerhoff's resophonic guitar (which seems to be replacing dobro, maybe, in the modern world of bluegrass?) is a delight throughout, and three different fiddle players (Tim Crouch, Adam Haynes and Ron Stewart) provide stylings all over the country and bluegrass map. Want banjo? Ross grabbed three different players there as well--- Ben Greene, Ron Stewart and Scott Vestal--- each doing standup work. Like any smart musician, Ross surrounded himself with some of the best. And Ross's own guitar and mandolin ain't too shabby, either, to fall into the backwoods vernacular.
There is a little piece of Joe Ross in each song presented here and he gives background on each in the liner notes, much like the old folkies used to do with their spoken word lead-ins in the '40s and '50s. Ross is smart enough to know that knowing the heart of a song can many times make the song. Just another piece of the craft.
If we were giving stars here, I would give Ross seven out of ten. The musicianship is top flight as are the majority of songs. The recording is very well done also. If there be a problem here it is in "my" ear, for I hear a style of recording more like Bill Monroe with lead vocal way out front rather than the Jimmy Martin style where it is equal with the music. Now, when you compare recording techniques of musicians of that caliber, that is hardly a bad thing.
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