Brothers Josh and Wayne Crowe have been recording and touring together since 1975, but they sound straight out of the 1940s. If they had just been born a few decades earlier, the Crowe Brothers would be listed alongside all of the other great brother duos of country/western and bluegrass music. Luckily for contemporary fans of classic American music, the Crowes serve as a needed respite from overly progressive newgrass bands and bubblegum teen idols masquerading as country singers.
The songs on Brothers-N-Harmony blend seamlessly, with originals like “Holdin’ on When You Let Go”, written by Dixie Hall and Eric Gibson (one half of a brother duo himself), sounding right at home with classic songs like “Why Not Confess”. While the brothers are not the strongest songwriters—only two of the album’s twelve tracks were written by a Crowe—they are pretty talented in picking songs that fit their voices and old-school style.
Brothers-N-Harmony starts off with a bang. “Cindy Mae”, the first single of the record (written by Cody Shuler of Pine Mountain Railroad), sets the tone for the rest of the album: sprightly banjo, nasal vocals, and singalong catchiness. The Crowes then pay tribute to the Louvin Brothers with their version of “Are You Teasin’ Me”, sounding eerily similar to Charlie and Ira’s high lonesome harmonies. Charlie Louvin himself shows up in the liner notes, stating that it was “a treat” to hear this song, which had been “really good to Ira and [himself]” early in their musical career.
Bluegrass’s gospel tradition is also strongly represented on the record. The Crowes sing the 50-year-old gospel tune “I Know I’m Saved” with their voices reaching near-castrato heights, apparently taking the adage “lift every voice and sing” a little too literally. But when it comes to gospel in bluegrass, the higher the voice, the closer to God, so the Crowe boys are all set. Also on the album is the Josh Crowe-penned “Take Me By the Hand”, which is strong enough that one wonders why the album is so lacking in Crowe originals.
It seems as though Josh and Wayne have made a lot of friends in their 30-some-year career. Nashville A-listers like Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Randy Kohrs (dobro/lap steel), and Don Wayne Reno (banjo) all appear as guest musicians on several tracks, adding depth to the two brothers’ guitar and bass. Although the Crowe Brothers borrow heavily from bluegrass, they also pay homage to classic country and western music as well. “God Must be a Cowboy” is made for the long past era of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and an untrammeled West full of campfires, horses, and wide open spaces. Cliché, yes, but a nice little song for those feeling nostalgic for the Lone Ranger.
Overall, Brothers-N-Harmony is a don’t-miss album for fans of classic country, bluegrass, or just plain damn good music. The Crowe Brothers may be too old for heartthrob status, and they may sing through their noses, but the songs come straight from their hearts.
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// Notes from the Road
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