Bluegrass, born of folk and country and ballads borne across the sea, has really only been around since Bill Monroe virtually defined the form in the fifties. Yet it has an air of tradition handed down through centuries. Somehow bluegrass just sounds older than it is.
Brandon Rickman, lead singer of popular ‘newgrass’ outfit Lonesome River Band, is still a young man, evidenced by an obviously heartfelt “So Long 20’s” in which he laments entering his third decade. It’s an age when life still has much left to reveal. But as the title of Rickman’s solo debut suggests, he does seem possessed of an ‘old soul,’ wise beyond his years and with the weary weight of enormous experience in his voice.
Take the opening tracks, “Always Have, Always Will” and “Rain And Snow.” Both are suffused with desolate resignation, the sound of a man who knows that he’ll never escape his ghosts. The theme continues with “Here Comes That Feeling Again,” a song about the recurring sadness of a long gone wrong, full of windswept loneliness and regret. And “What I Know Now” is a ruminative reflection on how things might have turned out differently – something pretty well everyone’s dwelt on at one time or another, here handled with melancholy regret for what might have been.
Things aren’t all gloom and misery, though. The wryly humorous “I Bought Her A Dog” turns out to be a response to ‘baby talk,’ while both “Let Me Walk Lord” and “Rest For His Workers” are straightforward and sincere declarations of faith. Things get maudlin with “I Take The Backroads” and “Dime Store Rings.” Both tunes are musically satisfying, but the sentiments are sticky, a trend that continues with the disc’s closer, “Wearin’ Her Knees Over Me,” a tune whose tugs on the heartstrings are a little too obvious.
Home, family, faith, and heartbreak, though, are the pillars of bluegrass, and it’s doubtful that audiences will mind the overt sentimentality of some of Rickman’s material. Even the trite can be true, and one really can’t argue with the homespun wisdom pervading proceedings. And Rickman delivers everything with gentle and unassuming warmth – even the sadness here sounds welcoming.
Life’s lessons can be hard, and learning from those lessons harder still. Brandon Rickman has learned the most difficult of all – responding with grace and dignity. The result is wisdom, and there’s a great deal of that here. Recommended!