may 2009

Newfound Road Same Old PlaceSAME OLD PLACE
NewFound Road

Born and rising to its initial acclaim as a gospel group, NewFound Road remade itself as a bluegrass band five years ago. If the quartet's songs now address mostly secular matters of heartbreak, abundant love, and various forms of personal malfeasance and triumphs, it's also true that the gospel feel—the commitment, the deep feeling, the fierce, precise instrumental settings—remains intact, giving the music an unflagging intensity. Assaying songs by a formidable lineup of songwriters—Sonya Isaacs, Larry Sparks, Carter Stanley, Ralph Stanley and Larry Sparks, Tim Stafford and Becky Buller, Ronnie Bowman, et al.—lead vocalist Tim Shelton makes Same Old Place his personal statement with a display of power, nuance and soulfulness in a league with that of the genre's finest young singers. He gets so far into some of these songs emotionally, it's almost scary—the aching torment he brings to the reconfigured honky tonk of "On the Back Row" could not have been finer tuned to express a man's smoldering regret over watching the woman he loves wed another; to the droll humor of Tim Shelton-Becky Buller's rollicking "My Shoes Know How To Get Around" he brings a lighthearted élan, with some stellar vocal support by baritone (and co-producer) Jim Van Cleve and tenor Jr. Williams in unblinkingly ascribing his wanderlust solely to his footwear as both Joe Booker on mandolin and, for a hot split-second, Randy Barnes on bass add some energizing solos to the fray. Of course gospel is never very far from NewFound Road's heart, and they return to their roots on "Give Me Jesus," a powerful, a cappella quartet rendering of Sherrill Jennings's moving song of devotion, with Shelton out front with a determined, aggressive testimony ahead of the smooth melding of his tenor with Barnes's resonant bass, Booker's baritone and Williams's tenor in one of those goosebump raising harmony moments; no sooner has that ended than do the fellows settle into the sturdy strides of Ralph Stanley's vivid evocation of the Crucifixion, "I Am The Man Thomas," with Shelton's plaintive reading enhanced by Booker's evocative mandolin solo, a howling fiddle solo courtesy Justin Moses and a gritty banjo interlude by way of Jr. Williams, one of his many compelling instrumental sojourns on this album. Spice this mixture with a haunting treatment of Carter Stanley's keening heartbreaker, "Lonesome River"; an appropriately titled barnburning instrumental workout, "Piledriver," by Justin Moses, in which one and all, including Shelton on guitar, get a chance to show off some dazzling instrumental chops; and close it out with another affecting Shelton vocal, all tenderness and open heart, on Tim O'Brien-Randy Handley's "Full Circle," a song of enduring commitment sung by a deceased husband to his bereaved wife, assuring her his love remains with her, through the eyes of their children, "because their love brings you 'round full circle/as you see through the eyes of a child." Jim Van Cleve adds a dramatic, rising fiddle part and the song becomes greater than the sum of its parts, both benediction and promise, a transcendent spiritual moment at the close of a stirring musical journey. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024