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Mountain Heart
Force of Nature

Review By Steven Stone
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Mountain Heart Force of Nature

CD Number: Skaggs Family Records 


  Force of Nature comes across as an album with a well-defined purpose. It tries to establish Mountain Heart as a preeminent bluegrass band, on equal footing with Del McCoury and his boys, Ricky Skaggs and Rolling Thunder, or Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. It achieves its goal by showcasing the band's talent with the clarity and power of tornado landing on a trailer park.

First formed in 1997, Mountain Heart had, by 1999, earned IBMA's (International Bluegrass Musician's Association) Emerging Artist of the Year award. The current roster has Adam Steffey on mandolin and vocals, Steve Gulley on guitar and vocals, Barry Abernathy on banjo and vocals, Jim Van Cleve on fiddle, Jason Moore on bass, and Clay Jones on guitar. Rather than take the easy road (for them) of just playing breakneck-fast technically difficult bluegrass, Mountain Heart creates music that has heart and soul in equal proportions to their technical brilliance.  The song "Heart Like A Roadsign" typifies this approach. Steve Gulley's impassioned singing coupled with Van Cleve and Steffey's pyrotechnical solos creates a song that burns with passion. On the Flatt and Scruggs' bluegrass standard, instead of merely supercharging it by speeding it up, Mountain Heart slows its pace just a trifle so they can swing it. Adam Steffey's solo displays his clocklike rhythm coupled with an innovative melody line. There's a reason Gibson made an Adam Steffey signature model mandolin – he qualifies as one of bluegrass's modern mandolin masters. Clay Jones, the newest member of the band (he joined in late 2002) contributes a level of flatpicking guitar virtuosity that few other players can provide. My only regret is that on Force of Nature he gets very few solos, but with Van Cleve, Steffey, and Abernathy in the band, there are precious few songs with space for a fourth soloist.

Force of Nature certainly makes a strong case for Mountain Heart's ascendancy to the highest rungs of the bluegrass stardom. This band can do it all – sing, pick, and deliver songs steeped in soul.




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