Summertown Road

While the progressive wing of bluegrass awaits whatever wonders will ensue from the release of the Punch Brothers’ second album (apparently in June), the traditional world finds its music enriched by the debut of Summertown Road, the pride of Ashland, KY. Though the band members—Jack Hicks, Bo Isaacs, Jonathan Rigsby, Randy Thomas—have been together as Summertown Road only since mid-2008, all have impressive resumes, and, with an age range spanning the mid-20s to the mid-50s, a wide spectrum of influences coalescing to make their original material musically rich and lyrically striking. You don’t have to wait long to hear Summertown Road at its finest—the hard driving album opener, “If I Win,” a co-write between Jonathan Rigsby, Lisa Rigsby and Jack Hicks, has an infectious rhythmic pace spiced by a breathtaking mandolin run by Rigsby before the tale unfolds of a marriage on the rocks, set in the twin locales of courtroom and bar. Isaac’s plaintive vocal has a bluesy tinge about it to remind us this is a sad story, no matter how spirited the music—and spirited it is, with lively solos from Jack Hicks on banjo and Rigsby doubling on fiddle. Rigsby demonstrates a dramatic touch as a vocalist in his readings of two story songs, the tragic murder-suicide tale of two young lovers, “Rosalee,” fueled by Hicks’s dark, rolling banjo soloing; and the old-timey “Dennis Braden,” which hearkens back to bluegrass’s Irish roots in telling a buoyant reminiscence of a fellow who practiced the Golden Rule and spread cheer all around him (and is presumed to be doing so in Heaven) steps lively behind Hicks’s sturdy banjo and Rigsby’s spirited fiddling. If you don’t listen up you’ll be too busy dancing to realize you’re slip-sliding away to a catalogue of natural and personal disasters—the band went to Tony Arata (“I Hope You Dance,” Garth Brooks) for the exuberant “Too Much of A Good Thing,” an interesting lyric with clever touches (“you could spit out in the dust and a cloud of dust will spit right back at you”) and the suggestion of true believers questioning their faith; once again, in fiddle and banjo-mandolin, respectively, Hicks and Rigsby ignite the instrumental flurry pushing the song ahead. Hewing to tradition, these Road warriors close out with a moving rendition of Brantley C. George’s late ‘40s hymn, “Hide Me, Rock of Ages,” a plea for salvation rendered solemnly with keening group harmony and keyed atmospherically by Rigsby’s elegant, crying fiddle voicings. Rigsby’s fiddle is so critical to Summertown Road’s personality that Hicks and Shayla Huffman wrote “Fiddlin’ John” as a tribute to the bowmaster, who simply knocks it out of the park in a rambunctious coupling of feeling and technique enlivened by quotes from “Katy Hill,” “Old Joe Clark” and the timeless “Sally Goodin.” And being from the Bluegrass State, the fellows pay tribute to their homeland in Tom T. and Dixie Hall’s driving “That’s Kentucky,” which name-checks some of the state’s icons (Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln, Bill Monroe) in a country shuffle template lifted from Carl Perkins’s obscure “Tennessee,” the Original Cat’s followup single to “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1956. Hall’s “Kentucky” even co-opts a couple of lyric lines from Perkins’s “Tennessee,” and at the song’s close vocalist Bo Isaac drops into a lower register evoking for all the world that of Ernest Tubb acolyte Jay Perkins, who sang lead on “Tennessee.” (Hall, however, did not salute Kentucky’s coal mining industry in song the way Perkins did Tennessee’s being the home of “the first atomic bomb.” There is a reason “Tennessee” is the weirdest Carl Perkins single ever.) With its high caliber of musicianship and smart choices in songs, Summertown Road has made the best kind of introductory statement—one that leaves a listener eager for more. Back to you, fellas. —David McGee

Summertown Road is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, 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