When someone asked me "What exactly IS Bluegrass?" I used to go into a long spiel about Bill Monroe, post-WWII urbanization, and city dweller's nostalgia for agrarian America. Now I just put on the new release from Open Road Cold Wind. About 30 seconds into the title cut, they get it. Open Road captures the essence of the traditional Bluegrass sound. While not as flashy or slick as more modern-sounding bands like Mountain Heart, Open Road creates an ensemble sound that conjures up images of big 'ol Cadillac touring cars with stand-up basses strapped to their roofs. Open Road delivers that early 50's bluegrass sound without any irony or need for apology.
At the center of Open Road's sound is the voice and pen of Bradford Lee Folk. In my review of their first album I called his vocals "unabashed hillbilly twang." I can't say it any better now. His songwriting also harkens back to the early days of Bluegrass. I hear the many hours he's spent listening to Ira Louvin, Bill Monroe, and Carter Stanley. At times it's hard to believe you are hearing newly penned songs when you hear Folk's tunes, they just sound so…old. The only way to know for sure whether you are listening to one of Folk's compositions or a forty or fifty year-old song by Mac Martin or Hank Williams is to read the liner notes.
Caleb Roberts' mandolin and singing style also reinforces Open Road's new/old style. He eschews flashy single string pyrotechnics in favor of double-stop tremolo laden solos that harkens back to the style of Bill Monroe's earliest recordings. His vocal style on "I'll Forgive You" has an emotional directness that a slicker voice would lose in the translation. Band members Jim Runnels on banjo and Ben O'Connor on stand-up bass contribute in the traditional ways these instruments are supposed to contribute to a bluegrass band. Runnel's banjo supplies the drive and sparkle while O'Connor's bass is the solid heartbeat for the music. Fiddlers Dan Mitchell and Eddie Stubbs add the obligatory hot fiddle parts. At the time of the recording Open Road was between regular fiddlers, but recent high school graduate Robert Britt joined the band shortly after this recording was completed.
Sally Van Meter, known in bluegrass circles as one of the finest dobro players on two legs, handled production duties on Cold Wind. She chose a Colorado-based production team headed up by James Tuttle as chief engineer and David Glasser of Airshow Mastering for post-production. The results sound great. Cold Wind's sonics are clean without being overly slick, warm without getting muddy. Perhaps it might be possible to produce a better-sounding album containing more heartfelt music, but I suspect you would have to go to an alternative universe to find it.