Brand New Strings
Rural Rhythm

It’s not much of a stretch to call Brand New Strings the most exciting traditional bluegrass debut since Dailey & Vincent, and in fact one Jamie Dailey gives the band his own rave review on its website. Set aside “the best” debate for a moment, though, and appreciate what is irrefutably here on No Strings Attached: two powerful lead singers in Randall Massengill and Mike Ramsey (who, along with Stuart Wyrick on banjo are all alumni of New Road); five superb instrumentalists (in addition to Massengill on lead guitar and Ramsey on mandolin, BNS includes Tim Tipton on acoustic bass, Mike Leadbetter on resophonic guitar and the aforementioned Stuart Wyrick on banjo; playing some outstanding fiddle on this outing is guest Ron Stewart, who injects some dazzling, energetic thrusts into an enthusiastic rendering of the uplifting spiritual, “When My Feet Touch the Street of Gold”); two inspired songwriters in Massengill and Ramsey. The quintet—which takes its name from Ricky Skaggs’s superb, like-titled 2004 album—can mix it up with the best of ‘em, but it wouldn’t be surprising if fans developed a deep affection for the heartfelt, quiet meditations here: Masengill’s “Prayer From Home,” in its first verse a touching child’s prayer for the safe return of soldiers from the conflict abroad, one of whom is the child’s father; in its second the father’s prayer sending his love back home, accompanied by a somberly evoked benediction, “God is great/God is good”; is as beautifully crafted a country ballad as one could ask, with a moving storyline to boot. Another heart tugging moment comes early on, second song, when the band rolls out a tear-stained rendition of Waylon Holyfield’s “Rainy Nights and Memories,” a deeply aching reflection on lost love, has both an evocative lead vocal and tightly harmonized choruses to give the lyrics extra punch, and once again Ron Stewart’s fiddle adds a down-and-out weariness to the arrangement. But No Strings Attached is more about high spirits and effusive musicalilty, an atmosphere to which both Massengill and Ramsey make important contributions. Ramsey’s hard charging “Caught Up” is an all-out spiritual celebration of redemption, with tight, driving harmonies and some impressively nimble mandolin work from Ramsey himself plus exuberant supportive testimonies by way of Wyrick’s banjo and Stewart’s fiddle. And though Massengill’s “The Blues Club” doesn’t exactly celebrate the finer things in life in lyrics such as, oh, “If you’ve ever seen the blue side of lonesome/if you’ve ever heard the slammin’ of the door/if you’ve ever felt your world sinkin’ so low/then you’ve got what it takes to be a card-carrying member of the blues club…,” the song’s irrepressible delight in its own misery is as reminiscent of some of the Del McCoury Band’s similarly conflicted outings, and in fact in arrangement and lead vocal it might well be inspired by the DMB, which is not a bad well to draw from for inspiration. Despite the album title, Brand New Strings has all its strings attached, and what’s become of that development is a thing of wonder indeed. —David McGee

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024