A Production of The Folk Life ( Inc. 1976)
John McLaughlin and Jamie Downs, Editors


CD Reviews: “Roots & Wings,”
(dba The Digital Folk Life. Org)

IIIrd Tyme Out, "The Best Durn Ride" (Chateau Music Group),,

Yeah, that’s pretty close - “The Best Durn Ride,” from a group with IBMA-award winning credentials (their tenth recording together, their second for the topnotch new “roots bluegrass” company, Chateau Music Group), which only gets better on each listening. Part of it is, of course, the superb pickin’ n singin,’ developed over a decade and more together, so that they know where they’re going, turn on a dime, give you back change, everybody flow along together, ready now, stop! - with these tightly-rehearsed tunes. You could say that about most bluegrass groups, of course – did you ever hear a bad bluegrass band? ‘Course not – in that bluegrassers just eat, drink and sleep what’s been called “the classical music of the Appalachian Mountains,” playing in the parking lot when they’re not onstage, picking and singing for sheer love of the music. What sets these guys apart is just that they’re one step ahead and above the crowd, no argument here. Ron Thomason’s liner notes just about say it all. The critics go one way, analyzing and – naturally – criticizing, along with the scholars, footnoting and discographing. The fans – like Ron – just lean back and listen.

So what are they listening to? Russell Moore’s soaring vocals, on “What True Love Is (You and I”)” and the title cut, “The Best Durn Ride” (or maybe that’s Ray Deaton, bass-player and trader-off on lead with Russell?) The lightning alternation of Wayne Benson’s mandolin and Steve Dilling’s banjo, in an expert, top-speed version of Bill Monroe’s “Bluegrass Special,” followed by a mournful, close-harmony mountain love-song, “Sarasee”? Sure. A honky-tonk “tired of all your cheatin’ and your lies” ballad, “I Won’t Be Around,” with – again –those soulful harmonies, and then a lovely song about the mountain mailman, from Becky Buller – not a band-member, but close – “Rest My Weary Feet,” which winds its way along the back hills and hollers with cards and letters from kinfolk far away, “Till my Savior’s perfect heaven I will see/ And in my golden mansion there is a wicker rockin’ chair/Where forever I can rest my weary feet,” oh my. It just gets better, with a crystal-clear reading of Honi Deaton’s “Your Love is Like a Rose” (Honi is the singing daughter-in-law of Ray Deaton, married to his son Jeff, with her own hot band, Honi Deaton & Dream, also on Chateau Music Group), and then a gorgeous, rock-steady full-band version of Bill Castle’s “I Will See You on the Other Side of Jordan.” Wayne Benson’s own rolling “Tennessee Thunder” – he was clearly a Ricky Skaggs fan in another life – is followed by a beautiful mountain weeper, “A Pretty Wreath for Mother’s Grave,” with the band’s full-throated harmonies on the mournful chorus, “She was fond of pretty flowers/I recall she used to say/When I’m gone son please remember/ A pretty wreath for mother’s grave.” How can you resist? About all that’s left is the up-tempo, bluesy, “You Took My Sunshine,” and then – almost “but of course” – the closing sonorities of the band’s jazzy, a capella version of the old spiritual, “Wade in the Water,” for those fans seeking a repeat of their previous gospel outing on Chateau Music Group, Singing on Streets of Gold.

Well, of course they’re not going to repeat themselves. But neither are they going to let go of who they are and where they’ve been. The result, then, is a very rich and satisfying mixture of old and new, giving new fans as well as old something to enjoy from one of the best bands now touring the bluegrass festival circuit (for schedule, see But don’t believe me. Listen to the music. Who you gonna believe, me or your ears? Nice when we agree, huh?

(Review copyright 2004, John McLaughlin