Blues has always been a major component of bluegrass music. Even Bill Monroe acknowledged the strong connection between his music and the black country-blues tradition. On their latest release, No Turning Back, the Lonesome River Band explores these connections between bluegrass and the blues. Over the years, LRB band has had many different band rosters. Members have left to pursue solo or songwriting careers only to return again. When Sammy Shelor and Ronnie Bowman joined Lonesome River Band in 1990, Shelor had just come off a six-year stint with the popular Virginia Squires. The group's breakout CD, "Carrying The Tradition", released in 1991 included Shelor, Bowman, Dan Tyminski, and Lonesome River Band founder, Tim Austin. They recorded a second album, Old Country Town, before Tyminski accepted a gig with Alison Krauss & Union Station and Austin decided to leave the road to focus on his recording studio, Doobie Shea. When Bowman left in 2001, Shelor found himself in charge, leading the band that had hired him eleven years earlier.
Given that No Turning Back is Lonesome River Band's twelfth release in their twenty-five year career, you might wonder what they have to say that's new. Their current leader, banjo player extraordinaire Sammy Shelor, says, ""I feel like we have reinvented the LRB sound with this band and I'm really excited about working with these guys." These guys include Brandon Rickman on guitar and vocals, Mike Hartgrove on fiddle and vocals, Andy Ball on mandolin and vocals, and Mike Anglin on bass and vocals.
On No Turning Back The Lonesome River Band intersperse traditional material such as Ralph Stanley's "I'd Worship You" and Ginger Boatwright's "Somebody's Missing You" with more modern fare including Larry Cordle's "Wires and Wood" and "Molly" as well as four originals by band-member Brandon Rickman. Many of the tunes feature lead vocal duets between Rickman and Andy Ball and three and four part harmonies in the choruses. This vocal precision reminds me of another long-lasting bluegrass group – Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. But unlike Quicksilver whose instrumentals are driven by Lawson's signature mandolin style, Lonesome River Band's instrumental breaks are shared equally by the mandolin, banjo and fiddle.
Longtime bluegrass fans won't need much encouragement to add No Turning Back to their music library. Newbees should also dive right in and then work their way backward through the rest of Lonesome River Bands outstanding back catalog.