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Mountain Heart
Wide Open

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Skaggs Family Records 6989020162 


  With Wide Open Mountain Heart motors into the pole position among the premiere American bluegrass bands. Their third release with Skaggs Family records features virtuosic playing, perfect harmonies, and thoughtful song selection.

Mountain Heart consists of Steve Gulley on guitar and vocals, Adam Steffey on mandolin and vocals, Jason Moore on bass, Clay Jones on guitar, Barry Abernathy on banjo and vocals, and Jim VanCleve on fiddle and vocals. Steffey, Van Cleve, Abernathy, and Jones are all jaw-droppingly good players on their respective instruments. Any questions you may have about their musical prowess will vanish after one listen to the song "Wide Open." From the Clay Jones' opening guitar riff through Adam Steffey's simply superhuman mandolin solo, these guys smoke. But this band doesn't merely play fast-draw. On the Ronnie Bowman Shawn Lane song "Here I Am" Mountain Heart paints a chilling picture of Satan in all his dark majesty. Their cover of Mac MacAnally's song "Miracle" has every bit as much emotional power as the songwriter's original version, which is no mean feat.

Produced by Mark Bright, Wide Open sounds beautiful and bodacious. The instruments have all the impact of an overly friendly 90-pound sheepdog that likes you a whole lot. Everything is big, clear, and very, very there. Unlike some acoustic recordings that have a slightly distant viewpoint so they can include some sense of room acoustics, Wide Open's sound is in your face. I like its refreshingly honest and direct sonic approach. Mountain Heart don't need no stinkin' artificial digital reverb to prettify their playing.

At this year's IBMA (International Bluegrass Musician's Association) awards ceremony I suspect that Wide Open will garner a well-deserved number of awards. It's an album that redefines what you can expect from a premiere bluegrass band. The overall impact is so powerful and impressive that you simply must hear it for yourself.




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