John Cowan is perhaps best known as the bass player and lead singer on most of New Grass Revival's material. This exploratory band, Cowan, Sam Bush mandolin, Bela Fleck banjo, and Pat Flynn guitar, took the boundaries of Bluegrass and stretched them until it morphed into Newgrass, a sound that combined Bluegrass, Jazz, R & R, and Gospel. It was a band of 4 musicians at the top of their game, pushing each other and the perceived limits, and most importantly they were willing to take risks.
Although Cowan has always stretched and explored new trails, this time his voice has the material and the support from his cohorts that shows off the muscle that is inherit therein. His voice always seemed to be at his strongest when he went into the Gospel, Soul and/or Rhythm and Blues realm and here is a disc that at its core uses his band, and a number of special guests that are such solid players that they only enhance his work and never impede it. Bela Fleck adds banjo, Kenny Greenberg some electric guitar, Darrell Scott contributes mandolin and guitar, and Wendy Waldman some background vocals and many more contributed.
This disc opens on a high with a great slinky organ introduction, leading to a greeting and then some great work on the drums driving Mississippi Delta Time to the point where the full band joins in and rocks the crowd onto its feet and you never look back. Then there is a mostly acoustic song "High Above The Powerlines", and, with his voice soaring above said lines, it pushes the disc into the stratosphere. It is doubtful if anyone looked down after that. The energy is held high for the full disc no matter the direction of the song and his voice is in superb condition and the songs are there to show it off. He wrote or co-wrote 6 of the 12 songs; and others by the likes of Jesse Winchester, Bill Lloyd and Laura Love.
He does a version of Merle Travis' Dark As A Dungeon that displays the emotional depth of his voice, and he adds a verse about the diamond miners in South Africa that brings the song up to date and adds a global focus. The band gives it a sparse treatment which includes a great sax solo by Jeff Coffin.There isn't a weak cut here.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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