Few bluegrass groups have been around for forty years, and even fewer have been more popular, more widely admired, or more influential for as long as Mountain Home Music Company recording artists Lonesome River Band. By the early 1990s, they were winning key awards and topping the charts, and while members have come and gone, the quintet’s reputation for crafting essential, archetypal bluegrass has only grown with each passing year.
Now, the bluegrass powerhouse releases a new album, Heyday, surrounding four hit singles with a set of songs that serves both to introduce new members and to extend the group’s influential legacy still further.
Leading off the project is the group’s first single — and first No. 1 — of 2022, “Mary Ann Is A Pistol.” Sung by new member Adam Miller (mandolin), the song, written by long-time Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Dennis Linde, is a sly subversion of stereotypes first recorded over a quarter of a century ago and reclaimed from the record collection of bandleader and award-winning banjo player Sammy Shelor.
Miller shares lead vocal duties with veteran mandolinist-turned-guitar player Jesse Smathers, who led on last year’s “Cumberland River Shore” (a song suffused with the spirit and sound of the late and legendary John Hartford). The lineup is rounded out by Shelor, iconic fiddle player Mike Hartgrove and new bassist Kameron Keller, and blends to perfection the group’s signature “bluegrass with a rock ’n’ roll attitude” sound with fresh energy and new influences.
“Heyday,” the title track and next radio single, is a wistful reminiscence cast in the voice of a small town that’s “still sleepy but…still alive”; featuring another lead from Miller and subtle, sympathetic solos from Hartgrove and Smathers, it underlines the collection’s strong emphasis on new songs.
Banjo legend Jimmy Arnold’s retelling of “Jesse James” and Jim & Jesse’s homespun “Tell Her Lies and Feed Her Candy” are the only covers here, while the rest offer vivid sketches encompassing wry looks at love (“Love Songs”), old-timey romps (“Come On Down From The Mountain Top”), stern apocalyptic warnings (“Gabriel’s Already Standing”) and, of course, plenty of heartbreak and ramblin’ (“Waitin’ on a Train,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Headed North”). Lonesome River Band may be reaching middle age, but Heyday is here to say that, in some ways, they’re just getting started.
“Heyday is a representation of the Lonesome River Band in transition from many years with Brandon Rickman and Barry Reed in the band to the introduction of Adam Miller and Kameron Keller as the newest members,” says Shelor. “After 40 years in the business, LRB is looking forward to many more years on the road bringing new music to our wonderful friends across the country. We hope you enjoy this collection!”