Audie Blaylock: Perfecting the heartbroken lilt…

Life Lived Fully, Broken Hearts And All
By David McGee

Audie Blaylock and Redline
Rural Rhythm

One hesitates to say “third time’s the charm” when an artist has been as honored and critically acclaimed as has Audie Blaylock, but on this, indeed his third album, second with the sterling band Redline, he’s settled into a traditional bluegrass style full of energy and soul to burn that sounds as durable as the music itself has been over time. You could say this is no-frills traditional bluegrass, but you would be doing a disservice to Evan Ward (banjo), Patrick McAvinue (fiddle, mandolin) and Matt Wallace (bass)—not to mention Blaylock himself on guitar—who should be applauded for the solid, individual instrumental voices they supply on any number of impressive solo outings energizing the baker’s dozen selections here.

The fellows don’t waste any time getting out of the gate, tearing into the title track with resplendent fury to kick off the album on a rambunctious note. The Joe Brown-penned tune has an illustrious history of having been recorded by various country and blues musicians, but most have taken the approach The Band’s Rick Danko employed on his 1978 solo recording of the song, wrenching every last teardrop out of slow, churning and decidedly blue arrangements. While not altering the lyrics, Blaylock and Redline go the hard charging route, sounding less anguished than other interpreters as the music—fueled by Ward’s ceaselessly rolling banjo and McAvinue’s equally urgent fiddling—buttresses a cool, somewhat reserved Blaylock vocal that hints at the heartbreak being perhaps less shattering than the lyrics suggest. If this is indeed the case, the following song, Stan Keach and Trey Ward’s “All I Can Do Is Pretend,” is delivered with all the melancholy and regret its narrator outlines in a midtempo country-inflected ballad chronicling the personal desolation left in the wake of his gal’s leaving, as he struggles on without her but certain in his delusion of her returning to his arms one day. It’s hardly a dirge, but rather devastating in the inevitability it hopes for but in which every element—Ward’s somber banjo, McAvinue’s crying fiddle, Blaylock’s reserved vocal—resounds with hopeless yearning. That’s the way love goes on Cryin’ Heart Blues, for the most part. But it hurts so good. Bill Monroe’s “Stay Away From Me”—pretty self explanatory title there—gets a sprightly treatment spotlighting McAvinue’s bright fiddling in a strutting arrangement that finds Blaylock bearing down on the lyrical entreaty to a no-good woman and emphasizing his resolve with some seamless flights into a falsetto pleading. A man thrown over for another suitor, but unable to quell his lingering passion for she who done him wrong, articulates a surprising equanimity towards his ex in Carter Stanley’s “Let’s Part The Best Of Friends,” a driving, economical treatise with affecting multi-part harmonies, another striking banjo workout by Ward, but yet again a hope arising in the lyrics and enhanced in Blaylock’s upbeat attitude of the fire being rekindled one day. Much the same sensibility is at work in one of the outstanding honky tonk ballads of our time, “Talk To Your Heart,” here keyed by McAvinue’s tear-stained fiddling and a gripping vocal by Blaylock that is as warm and forgiving as it is tore down in its abject loneliness. Eddie Adcock did a wonderful, rhythmically pulsating version of this a few years back, but Blaylock and Redline take their cue more from Ray Price’s memorable rendition, but de-emphasizing its honky tonk roots in favor of a loping, bluegrass-ified arrangement with plenty of room for Ward and McAvinue to complement Blaylock’s emotionally resonant reading and with equally expressive soloing with a heartbroken lilt to it.

A sampling of Audie Blaylock & Redline’s performance at the Southwest Bluegrass Club’s Winter 2009 show. From left: Evan Ward (banjo), James Johnson (mandolin), Matt Wallace (bass), Patrick McAvinue (fiddle), Audie Blaylock (guitar).

To these you can add a searing Harley Allen evocation of an alcoholic’s moment of clarity, “Can’t Keep On Runnin’,” with which the band takes no liberties in a somber arrangement that heightens the singer’s horror at being on the edge of personal extinction and hating what he’s become since climbing into the bottle. At the other end of the existential scales is an immaculate a cappella rendition of Don Parmley’s song of salvation, “He’s Near,” its triumphant fervor buttressed by the album closing instrumental, “Rummie’s Run,” completely unrelated to “He’s Near” but by proximity rather a soaring, exuberant celebration of life here and now on which every instrumentalist takes a turn with some breathtaking fleet-fingered picking and bowing that is not merely for show but instead sings of life lived fully and vigorously, here and now, broken hearts and all.

Cryin’ Heart Blues is available at

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