I hear a lot of bluegrass music that is good but not necessarily different – do we really need, for instance, another cover of I’ll Fly Away, or another Alison Krauss sound-alike female vocalist?
So when something fresh and new comes along, I can get pretty excited. So it is that I was thrilled to listen to Six Degrees of Separation from Wilson Banjo Co. More specifically, I was taken by the straight-ahead, engaging vocal stylings of Sarah Logan, an East Tennessee State University student who sings lead on seven of the band’s 12 songs on this Pinecastle release. Remember her name.
From the first words she sings on the eerie ballad, When The Crow Comes Down, to the more conventional Long Hard Day, Logan establishes herself as a vocalist destined for big things. The band, put together by banjo builder, engineer, producer, songwriter, masterful player, and jack of all trades, Steve Wilson, is fortunate to have her in the lineup. Some day, he and others will be able to say, “We knew her when.” For now, they just need to enjoy every note.
But Logan is far from the only bright light on this balanced, tasteful project. While we only hear his warm voice out front on the first single, Wrong Turn That Led Me To You, Colton Rudd, is right up there with her in the vocal chops department.
Wilson also brought in a number of marquee names to contribute on instruments and harmonies, including Deanie Richardson, Gena Britt, Dale Ann Bradley, Alan Bibey, Shawn Lane, Michael Cleveland, Richard Bennett, Glen Crain, and others. Not surprisingly, with that cast, the picking is top-notch, elevated by super clean production. Seemingly every listen unearths a lick or nuance that eluded me previously.
Richardson is especially masterful in pairing a haunting fiddle part with Logan’s dark vocals on When The Crow Comes Down. The song, written by Jordan Rainer, Kevin Brandt, and Tristin Smith, will be featured in a video due out later this month. Hey, if we can have Christmas in July, why not Halloween in June? If the video is as hair-raising as the song, you might need to sleep with one eye open.
As a songwriter, I find one nagging little issues in a few places on this release. Most casual listeners aren’t likely to notice, but on a handful of songs, some unnecessarily repeated words (“right” in consecutive lines, for instance) keep good songs from being great ones, at least to my ear. But after focusing on instrumental compositions for long, Wilson is relatively new to the lyric side of the equation, and he and his co-writers, including his wife, Melanie Wilson, will only get better over time.
Overall, though, Six Degrees of Separation is a strong, strong project, with promises of greater things still to come.