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Mountain Heart
Road That Never Ends (The Live Album)

Review By Steven Stone
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  Mountain Heart plays music their own way. What makes them so different? Breadth. While most bands narrow their scope to one particular sound, Mountain Heart pushes boundaries past traditional bluegrass into other popular musical forms.

Founded in 1998, Mountain Heart consists of six super-talented musicians Adam Steffey on mandolin and vocals, Jimmy Van Cleve on fiddle and vocals, Barry Abernathy on banjo and vocals, Clay Jones on lead and rhythm guitar, Jason Moore on bass and vocals, and Josh Shilling on guitar and vocals. Shilling is the newest member of the band, replacing founding member, Steve Gulley. Shilling brings a more pop/country sound to the lead vocals. His vocal style reminds me of Newgrass Revival founder/lead singer John Cowan. Both have bluesy voices with outstanding range and power.  Shilling also plays a mean piano. His performance of the Allman Brothers' classic, "Whipping Post" combines vocal pyrotechnics with soulful piano chops.

Road That Never Ends was recorded in one take at "The Ark" club in Ann Arbor, Michigan. From the opening introductions through the final song Mountain Heart captures the crowd's complete attention. These guys are great showmen. Their set begins with a blistering-pace version of "Road that Never Ends" featuring hot solos by Abernathy, Steffey, and Van Cleve. Super-fast paced songs are standard fare for a top-flight bluegrass band, but after a couple more barn-burners, Mountain Heart radically shifts gears and begins to show their depth with the honky-tonk elbow-bender "Who's the Fool Now?" But Mountain Heart's most radical departure from standard bluegrass fare has to be their acapella rendering of the gospel tune "Gospel Train." It features six part harmonies and a vocal technique they refer to as  "nose horns." After this vocal tour-de-force Mountain Heart takes another left turn with a 12-bar blues tune written by Josh Shilling called "It Works Both Ways." The final song of the show, the Jimmy Van Cleve 8:19 long instrumental "#6 Barn Dance" reveals the band's modern acoustic music side; they stretch this fiddle tune into more musical shapes than a piece of warm taffy.

The recording quality on this live CD is very good but not great. The midrange is slightly dry and thin. Dynamics are also compressed during peaks. Nevertheless, the mix is clean with all the instruments and vocals clearly recorded. The true beauty of this recording stems from its purity no punch-ins or repairs were made after the recording what you hear is exactly what the live crowd heard.

Road That Never Ends is a "must-have" for not only Mountain Heart fans, but also for anyone who appreciates masterful music recorded live with no "fixes" or overdubs.

 

 

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