The term ‘Americana’ has come to encompass a broad swath of roots-based music. Bluegrass is an integral element, though, and Tommy Webb, who hails from Kentucky (usually considered the birthplace of Bluegrass), delivers a fine collection that draws on musical tradition while addressing very real and very current concerns afflicting the American Heartland.
The other thing about bluegrass music, of course, is that it’s not a commercial proposition. Riches are rarely forthcoming, so a performer’s passion is pretty much a given. Webb wears his heart on his sleeve here, whether he’s covering classics (“River Of Jordan,” “Little Sadie”) or delivering his own passionate plea on behalf of America’s farmers via the title track.
Webb, who contributes guitar and banjo in addition to his slightly nasal vocals, wrote a handful of the tunes here, covering happiness (“Everything You Do”), hearbreak (“What You Weren’t Thinking Of”), faith (“Fall Upon Him”), and bluegrass itself ("If It Weren’t For Bluegrass Music (I’d Go Crazy)”) in addition to the plight of the land and those who work it.
Additional covers range from “Teardrop Inn” (cheatin’) to “No Room Inside Your Heart,” “Something In My Heart,” and “She Told Me,” all dealing with the timeless topic of unrequited love. Ricky Skaggs’ “A Hard Row To Hoe” again examines the hardships facing family farms, while “Good Day To Run” dreams of chucking it all in a desperate dash for freedom from care and worry. Ralph Stanley’s “Clinch Mountain Backstep” provides a fitting closer as Webb and company indulge in some dazzling fretwork that features intuitive interplay from all concerned.
Webb’s band is augmented here by guest and producer Ron Stewart, who contributes fiddle throughout as well as a variety of strings on “River Of Jordan.” Names aren’t nationally known but everyone performs with instrumental aplomb, all joining in on harmony vocals to excellent effect.
Bluegrass remains a relatively small sub-genre within the catch-all category of Americana. Judging by Tommy Webb’s Heartland, though, it’s as close to the soul and the soil of the nation as music can be. It’s music as unpretentious as an old barn, as real and as honest as a bountiful crop and the dirt it comes from.