june 2009

 Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Lonely StreetLONELY STREET
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

It figures that Doyle Lawson would kick off his 30th year of recording by teasing us. You cue up Lonely Street and settle back anticipating the traditional barnburning kickoff, only to be waylaid by the sound of chirping birds and a few tentatively plucked notes on the mandolin, all preceding several bars of mournful chording and noting as that bird keeps up his sweet chirping-until, at last, the pace picks up, Darren Beachley enters with a plaintive tenor vocal and the whole Quicksilver ensemble struts into the Bressler Brothers' tribute to the father of bluegrass in "Monroe's Mandolin," fittingly a song in which the singer vows to stay true to "the echo on the wind" of Mr. Bill's legacy. That little impish intro isn't the only surprise Lawson springs on this memorable occasion. As expansive as the bluegrass repertoire has been, who expected Doyle and friends would tear off into "Lonely Street"? The 1959 top five hit by Andy Williams was an evocative tearjerker in its day, and it loses none of its punch a half-century later in a high-stepping, richly harmonized bluegrass rendition sparked by the aching, rich harmony blend of Lawson, Darren Beachley and Carl White, who almost turn it into a gospel singalong, and the rolling banjo punctuations of Joey Cox. Similarly, Marty Robbins's affecting plea, "Call Me Up And I'll Come Callin' On You," an intoxicating blend of despair, hope and feisty wordplay, lends itself naturally to a toe-tapping bluegrass arrangement that breaks from the gate with a sprightly round of banjo, mandolin, resophonic guitar and fiddle solos chasing after one another before Beachley enters with his keening tenor to drive the message home, with Lawson and White once again supplying rich harmony parts on the title sentiment. Those who don't necessarily equate Doyle Lawson with topical songs need listen up for a treatise on a world unmoored from its eternal verities in the lilting "The Human Race," in which Lawson take the lead with a husky, emotional voice, asking, "We've flown to the moon/but have we missed the boat along the way?" The song takes on famine, environmental catastrophes and the irony of miscommunication in the era of near-instant communication. At less than three minutes "The Human Race" is one of the album's shortest songs, but it packs a punch in its pointed commentary. Elsewhere the group explores some familiar turf, but always with a bracing freshness to its instrumental approach, and with powerful emotional investment in the songs' narratives. In "Yesterday's Song," sweet memories of times long gone are beautifully articulated in the voices of Lawson and Beachley, their blend of the raspy and the trebly being particularly moving, in a tender, midtempo reflection penned by Lisa Shaffer, Mark Simos and Jon Weisberger, with Brandon Godman's swaying, ruminative fiddle lines adding a touching sepia tint to the reminisces. From the collaborators Buddy Cannon and Tommy Collins comes the swaying heartbreaker, "Ain't A Woman Somebody When She's Done," another lament for something gone away, in this case a man's good woman, whose love he discarded and now comes to realize the value of when he sees her happy with someone else. Lawson's subdued vocal imparts the narrator's misery to the hilt, and at the close the proper, mournful coda is appended when the banjo, mandolin and fiddle circle around the arrangement before meeeting up on a final, plaintive chord as the song resolves to silence. On an album with its fair share of heartbreak, Lawson and mates go out on a high note of gospel celebration in Chris Stuart's exultant "When The Last Of Our Days Shall Come," which not only gives Lawson, Beachley (on a powerful, driving lead vocal), White and, with an impressive, gut-rattling bass swoop near the end, Josh Swift, an opportunity to raise their voices in four-part southern gospel harmony splendor, but allows the listener one final immersion in the band's stirring instrumental dialogue, as Cox's spirited banjo soloing is shadowed by Swift's rich, resophonic guitar swirls, while Lawson tears into a frisky mandolin solo and Godman injects a bright, swift fiddle entreaty into the jubilant atmosphere. Their purposeful tentativeness at the start long gone, this bunch sounds Heaven-bound and on a fast train to boot. —David McGee

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