Following an introduction spoken in a comforting, smoky voice stained with the rustic warmth of tobacco lands south of the Mason-Dixon line, Barry Abernathy and Darrell Webb present Appalachian Road Show unfolds under the tread of “Little Black Train,” a gnarled string freak-out that gets our hearts pumping and our minds chasing after the dash of Abernathy and Webb’s uncontainable bluegrass harmony. The smoldering charm of the song sets the stage brilliantly for “Dance, Dance, Dance,” a sweetheart cover of Steve Miller’s song of the same name that inoculates a southern twang into the classic rock standard. Appalachian Road Show, as Abernathy and Webb wish to be known in this setting, don’t pull any punches in their debut offering, but casual music fans shouldn’t be daunted by the cerebral complexities of their very first collaborative studio album.
“Broken Bones” comes swaggering out of the darkness like a madman driven crazy from the summer swelter, stomping across the pavement with regret and disdain for the never ending heat. It’s ironically not nearly as cathartic as the more straightforward “Milwaukee Blues” or its pendulant follow up “Georgia Buck,” which swings hard but comes up just short of being overwhelmingly reckless. Abernathy and Webb display little self-control in this record, but I don’t know how negative of a quality that is in a bluegrass release. There’s nothing to keep them from going off the beaten path and exploring uncharted territory, and although these songs aren’t the RCA-polished, corporate country-approved singles destined for the FM format, they provide more sonic thrills than anything available in the contemporary Nashville scene.
DARRELL WEBB BAND: https://www.facebook.com/DarrellWebbBand/
MORE ON BARRY ABERNATHY: http://bluegrassbios.com/abernathy-barry/
“Piney Mountains” shines the spotlight on guest star Jim VanCleve’s fiddle before giving up the stage to the furious “Old Greasy Coat,” which to me summarizes the concept behind Appalachian Road Show in a little under four and a half minutes of playing time. This band doesn’t even need to include vocals on these songs to translate the emotion and adrenaline that is coursing through their veins, but the organic vocal in “Anna Lee” proves that they have just as much skill in the singing department as they do with their banjos and mandolins. I’ve always been a sucker for traditional bluegrass, but this progressive take on the genre is equally as intoxicating when spread out in the style Abernathy and Webb have utilized here.
“Lovin’ Babe” is a short and sweet burst of energy for fellow musicians to absorb and study with enthusiasm, but the closing track “I Am Just a Pilgrim” lets everything go and finishes us off with a soft groove that seems to fade into space with the fragility and gracefulness of a single strand of silk. Barry Abernathy and Darrell Webb present Appalachian Road Show amplifies its songwriters’ abilities and talents at every available opportunity and fills the gaps with an earnest love and jubilant devotion to worshiping Appalachia that is utterly inspiring if you grew up in the southern United States. This record was made for the people who influenced its very inception, and it’s one album that I believe bluegrass and country fans won’t be completely divided on.