A select few musicians have, while exploring their own unique sound, plugged into traditional music at its spiritual core (Duke Ellington would probably head the list). For almost three decades and dozens of recordings, that vital connection has energized the music of Doyle Lawson.
Alternating of late between gospel and secular recordings while marshaling an ever-changing lineup of bluegrass aces, Lawson has made certain that two musical elements remain constant in his work: classic bluegrass instrumental backing, and bracing multi-part harmonies that sweep any cobwebs from classic bluegrass vocals.
Last year’s He Lives In Me challenged genre boundaries with some quite interesting chordal variations and voicings. This secular follow-up seems more a consolidation, but suggests Quicksilver hears as clearly as ever the sound of traditions reborn.
Strings are a-blazin’ on “Mississippi River Let Your Water Flow” in the tradeoffs among Lawson (mandolin), Terry Baucom (banjo) and Mike Hargrove (fiddle). They’re easily matched, however, by the featured vocals of newcomer Derran Beachley and his harmony cohorts in a joyous tandem sprint through this three-minute whirling wonder.
Lawson the storyteller steps out front for the title track and “The Phone Call”, two tales of family crisis. There’s an intimacy to Lawson’s tone in these performances that conjures perfectly a friend delivering sad news; connection, heartbreak and faith-based stoicism are evoked in equal measure.
The album may be the best showcase yet for Lawson’s onstage foil, tenor singer and guitarist Jamie Dailey. His piping voice can send the harmonies into those soaring flights that are a Quicksilver hallmark. This time, he’s a match for Lawson as the group’s expressive heartbeat — first on the cautionary ruminations of “The Selfishness Of Man” and then in the album’s memorable capper, “Can You Hear Me Now”. Dailey’s riveting lead and Lawson’s framing harmony are startling in their immediacy, yet common ground with all the great early country duos is undeniable.
Appropriately, “Can You Hear Me Now” is a plea for the restorative power of the human voice. Few can make so convincing a case for that power as Doyle Lawson.