october 2011


Timeless, In a Word

The Crowe Brothers deliver a traditional bluegrass gem

By David McGee

Crowe Brothers
Rural Rhythm

Nothing will ever supplant those amazing, ethereal, keening brotherly harmonies of Charlie and Ira Louvin, but Crowe brothers Josh and Wayne have something special going when they blend their voices in harmony on a gospel tune, a love song, a heartbreaker or a sweet remembrance of home and family. Thus the landscape of Bridging the Gap, a baker’s dozen of new and traditional fare soulfully executed by a wondrous band and delivered by the Crowes with total conviction and heart tugging emotional investment in stories they render as personal testimony.

The Crowe Brothers perform their big bluegrass hit ‘Cindy May,’ from their 2008 Brothers-N-Harmony album

Bridging the Gap is a set of tales about regular folks from various walks of life responding to challenges in their everyday lives that may alter those lives or affect those with whom they come in contact—think of it in that regard as a bit of a rural version of Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town minus the unifying figure of a Stage Manager. Art Priebe’s lovely waltz, “Snow Woman,” featuring evocative, rustic dobro solos that explain why everyone wants Randy Kohrs to play the instrument on their sessions, frames a lonely man’s tale of building a woman out of the night’s snowfall only to find she had more warmth and humanity than the wife who had left him forlorn—“I saw more love and compassion in those eyes of glass than I ever saw there in your heart,” the brothers sing in tear-stained harmony a la the Louvins. Another Priebe song, “Trusting My Lord,” is a lilting, fiddle- and dobro-rich gem centered on a man’s search for redemption as he struggles through unceasing troubles that test his faith on a daily basis, yet he soldiers on, as the brothers lift their voices plaintively in a triumphant chorus of “though all the powers of the earth may bind me/still I’ll be trusting in my Lord and will not fear,” with both music and lyrics accentuating the positive in an otherwise bleak scenario. (Based on these two songs, and the audio clips on his website, Art Priebe would appear to be one of the great untapped resources for artists seeking quality bluegrass and country songs with interesting lyrical twists.) Ashby Franks’s sprinting mandolin work keys the quick pace of Tucker Smith’s “Eighteen Wheels” before Steve Sutton’s banjo, followed by the return of Franks’s mandolin along with Kohrs’s dobro, drive the song on down the line as the Crowes’ measured but sturdy vocalizing summons the weary determination of a truck driver fueled by the memory of a gal who burned him, trying to stay focused on “flying down this lonesome road until the next one comes along,” leaving the listener to decide whether “the next one” is a job or a new love.

The Crowe Brothers, ‘Are You Teasin’ Me,’ from their 2008 album, Brothers-N-Harmony, a cover of the Louvin Brothers’ song released on the 1958 album Ira and Charlie.

Josh takes a piercing tenor lead in the Ira Louvin mold on his own uptempo tearjerker, “I Knew It Wasn’t You (The Telephone Song),” in which the singer contemplates a lost love and muses on the possibility of a reconciliation, but refuses to get out of bed to answer the ringing telephone “because I knew it wasn’t you.” In a beautiful arrangement, Steve Sutton (banjo), Steve Thomas (fiddle), Brian Blaylock (mandolin) and Randy Kohrs (dobro) trade bright, stirring solos in setting up another keening chorus by the brothers or another of Josh’s remarkably sanguine recreations of the song’s protagonist coolly mulling his options while laying in bed ignoring the beckoning telephone. “Grandma’s Little Boardside Cabin” and “The Winds Are Blowing in Maggie Valley,” two Josh originals, are both poignant portraits of times past—the former about childhood visits to the unassuming dwelling where a grandmother made the kids feel special, the latter set in a bucolic place (“with flowers so fresh and new”) where the singer hopes a lost love will be revived. As in these two songs so it is throughout Bridging the Gap—hope and memory, omnipresent in the texts, are the album’s twin themes, often intertwined. It seems only natural, then, that the brothers should close with the gentle lope of Regan Riddle’s “God Has Been So Good To Me,” at once an enumeration of the many blessings the man above has bestowed on the singers in the form of supportive family and friends and a buoyant prayer of thanksgiving for same, sentiments enhanced by the warm, backwoods solos from Sutton on banjo and Blaylock on acoustic guitar while Thomas underpins it all with a sweet, singing cry of his own on the fiddle. In a career dating back to the 1970s, the Crowe Brothers have been consistently inspired, but in Bridging the Gap they have climbed the mountain with a work of traditional bluegrass at its finest, from the singing to the playing to the writing, one of the finest albums of its kind not only in the year of our Lord 2011, but in any year. Timeless, in a word.

The Crowe Brothers’ Bridging the Gap is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024