On their first major release, Common Ground, Blueridge comes up with an odd bastardization of Willie Nelson-style country and straight-up bluegrass. Some of the tunes are fun as hell, perfect for sittin’ around a campfire with a bunch of huntin’ buddies, drinkin’ beer and rattlin’ off shots into the woods for hours. If my dad would’ve had some cool music like this along on our hunting trips when I was younger, maybe I wouldn’t have given it up at age 11.
When I think of mandolin-based bluegrass I can’t help thinking of David Grisman. Common Ground is different in many ways, especially in that it has vocals. But with cool banjo playing accompanying the mandolin, Blueridge manages to achieve a gospel sound at times. It’s kinda like those gigantic families you see on Christian TV channels who all seem to play some nifty instrument, from a Ma and Pa on vocals to an Uncle Joe with his fiddle to a Teenage Billy with a Dobro or a Little Mikey with his half-sized acoustic. You’ve seen those, haven’t you?
As for the pickin’ on the album, Terry Baucom’s banjo is the thing that stands out from the get-go. Alan Bibey’s mandolin playing will not put Grisman to shame, but it’s pretty damned good. He rarely seems contrived, and comes up with some good soloing.
The guitars are solid by Wayne Winkle, a man whose parents obviously knew how to pick a name. Bassist Randy Graham does the old country walking lines pretty much throughout, which is just what’s needed in a band that doesn’t use percussion.
Many of the four-part vocal harmonies are quite memorable. The sound is rounded at the bottom and top, and ringingly in tune. The lyrics are pretty good, too. The track not to miss has to be “Talk It Out.”
Overall, Common Ground would probably appeal to those folks who like country and western, but not necessarily those who dig “radio-country.” If you’re a heavy duty bluegrass fan, you might find a few of the songs a little trite, but overall it works. Also, if you’re into good flat-pickin’ guitar work, you might want to give this a shot. It’s assuredly a good listen.
// Notes from the Road
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