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Andy Lowe: Nervous Energy
(MountainFever Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/9/2023)
The bluegrass scene continues to flourish. Over the last quarter century, the previously strictly traditional style has become increasingly eclectic, from the bluegrass pioneers playing in the original style to the progressive New Acoustic scene. The latter also ushered in more instrumental recordings to emphasize the virtuosic playing by some of the key instrumentalists like David Grisman, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck or the late Tony Rice.
This week, we have an album that straddles traditional style bluegrass with some New Acoustic influenced instrumental material. It’s the new release by banjo man Andy Lowe, called Nervous Energy. Andy Lowe is from North Carolina and for the past several years has been a member of the Deer Creek Boys. The group is currently inactive, but Lowe applied some of his nervous energy to create this project with several guests. Lowe is not a singer and all the material comes from other composers or is traditional, but it’s a nice selection. With the different vocalists for each of the non-instrumental tracks, in a way, the album helps to enhance the songs with appropriate voices to match the lyrics.
Joining Lowe on the album are Jeff Partin on bass and Dobro, Aaron Ramsey on mandolin, Jacob Burleson on guitar, and Jim Van Cleve on fiddle. The guest vocalists include Amanda Cook, Zach Arnold, Jake Greer, Josh Shilling and others. As mentioned, the material is non-original, but Lowe puts his stamp on the 11 songs that make up the album, which range from straight-ahead bluegrass, to New Acoustic-influenced, to a couple of ballads. Most of it is rather standard fare in terms of style. But it’s very well done throughout.
Opening is a song called On the Lonesome Wind co-written by Ronnie McCoury, with the vocal by Jacob Greer. It’s a kind of classic bluegrass song, with lyrics about the urge to ramble. <<>>
That is followed by another tune in classic bluegrass style, Lonely M oon, a ballad in waltz time, with Jeff Partin on the lead vocal. <<>>
The first of the instrumentals is a traditional piece called Boatman Stomp. It’s a classy upbeat track giving each the band members time for a short solo. <<>>
One of the more distinctive songs lyrically is Zip Lock an upbeat and rather whimsical love song, or rather one about a lost love. <<>>
One of the highlights on the album is Drop Dead Gorgeous sung by Amanda Cook. The arrangement is first rate bluegrass, with the lyrics about the mixed feelings toward one’s ex. <<>>
Another strong track album is the song called Mountain with Josh Shilling on the lead vocals. The lyrics are somewhat mysterious. <<>>
The album ends with perhaps its most surprising choice of composition to cover, Jamaica Farewell a calypso classic, that was made famous by Harry Belafonte in the 1950s. It’s done instrumentally. <<>>
Nervous Energy the new album by Deer Creek Boys banjo man Andy Lowe, is a satisfying collection of mostly straight-ahead bluegrass, played exceptionally well. The fact that Lowe neither composed any of the music, now did he do vocals, actually opened up the album to a greater variety with the different composers and varied singers, so that album can change directions when Lowe chooses to. The playing is first rate – not exactly the at the jaw-dropping virtuosic level of some of the stars in the New Acoustic field, but it’s competent, tasteful, and classy.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A.” The album was mixed by the mandolin player on the session, Aaron Ramsey, and he obviously understands bluegrass and how to record it for authenticity.
Bluegrass is a style that just does not lose its appeal over the decades. Andy Lowe’s new album is a testament to that with a nice combination of the traditions of the music with some more contemporary influences.
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