september 2011

Nu-Blu (from left: Daniel Routh, Carolyn Routh, Kendall Gales, Levi Austin): Stories to tell, lessons to be taught, advice to be proffered…

Gee But It’s Great To Be Back Home

Nu-Blu keeps the customers satisfied

Pinecastle Records

What a difference a year makes. After having to self-release its impressive debut album, Nights, last year following the 2009 demise of Pinecastle Records, for which it was recorded, lo and behold did Nu-Blu find a revived Pinecastle, under the leadership of new owner Dr. Lonnie Lassiter, ready to count The Blu-Disc among the triumphs in its new incarnation. The band’s sophomore album advances the strengths of the first and then some, albeit minus any new original songs from group founders Daniel and Carolyn Routh. On the other hand, when a band can draw from a pool of tunes by the likes of Tim Stafford, Jon Weisberger (in collaboration with each other and with other writers), Mark Brinkman (whose ferocious “Try and Catch the Wind” was a Nights highlight), Marc Rossi and Donna Ulisse, et al., well, go for it.

In choosing the material for The Blu-Disc, Nu-Blu voted for songs of substance, with stories to tell, lessons to be taught, advice to be proffered, on a variety of subjects including but not limited to the timeless topic of love. Many roads here lead back home, in memory or in fact; and a couple address the broader perspective of who we are as people. “Look to You,” for instance, by Tim Wheeler, leads off the album on a low-key note, proceeding at a gentle lope with guest Rob Ickes punctuating the pace with contemplative dobro flourishes while also engaging guitarist Levi Austin in a thoughtful dialogue halfway through. In delivering what seems to be a cautionary memo to a generation coming of age in re: the torch about to be passed to it, Carolyn walks the fine line between urgency and sympathetic counsel in employing both the keening mountain and smooth pop tones of her voice, whether in the velvety chorus (“our world/your world/will look to you”) or in impassioned verses, masterfully shaded for effect at key junctures, such as “we’ll look to you to see how you respond in tragic circumstance/we’ll look to you to see what happens when your enemies advance/we’ll look to you to see just where you’ll turn when you haven’t got a chance/we’ll look to you…we’ll look to you…” From Rossi and Ulisse comes a tense, hard hitting ballad, “That’s Who I’m Supposed To Be,” about an encounter with a homeless man undone by misfortune but who turns out to have a rich personal history (“wedding ring and a payment book/on a three-bedroom suburban dream/goodnight prayers and Captain Hook/two kids who look a lot like me/that’s who I’m supposed to be”). Carolyn hammers, fairly spits out (in one of those Rhonda Vincent-like cries she will soon trademark as her own), the phrase “that’s who I’m supposed to be” to set up Daniel’s swirling, moody resophonic guitar solo on a track further enhanced by guest Greg Luck’s crying fiddle and the always tasty, restrained mandolin work from Nu-Blu’s Kendall Gales. The message of not judging a book by its cover is hardly new, but, sad to say, always ripe for repeating, given how easily it’s forgotten.

Dolly Parton, ‘Jolene,’ from That Good Old Nashville Music, 1974, introduced by Porter Wagoner. We refuse to post the White Stripes’ version of ‘Jolene’ because it sucks and blows simultaneously and is an insult to a great song and a great artist.

Nu-Blu, Kira Small’s ‘Other Woman’s Blues,’ an answer song to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene,’ featured on Nu-Blu’s The Blu-Disc album

Honors for the album’s most clever song go to Kira Small for “Other Woman’s Blues,” a steady, midtempo workout rich in striking guitar, mandolin and dobro parts, but most notable for being an answer song to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”—yes, it’s Jolene herself, unburdening herself in a letter to the other woman, cataloguing, with considerable regret, the woes she brought upon herself by gallivanting off with the man in question. “I wish to God I didn’t love that man,” she laments, and Carolyn plays it right emotionally, never breaking down but making sure the turbulence in her soul roils her surface calm enough to give weight to her regrets and to her apology—“I’m so tired of standing in the other woman’s shoes/singing the other woman’s blues,” she moans in a convincing act of contrition she knows is warranted but will not suffice for the pain her lust has inflicted on an innocent party.

Nu-Blu accepting the 2010 Carolina Music Award for Country Band of the Year

On the contemplative side, “Roses and Rust” rolls out as a silky, exquisitely aching Alison Krauss-style bluegrass reminiscence of sweet memories of carefree childhood days on a farm quickly going back to nature in the wake of its owner’s death; seeing this deterioration spurs the singer to poignant recollections of good times on “a road that leads to yesterday.” Carolyn rises gracefully into her high, keening register at points, as crystalline and gently piercing as Ms. Krauss herself, with the effect lent extra poignancy by the subdued, rustic guitar-mandolin-dobro backdrop fashioned by Messrs. Routh, Gales and Ickes. A similarly moving reflection on the ties that bind, “Family Quilt,” a touching ballad by Deborah Berwin and Jeff Walter, is indeed about a quilt grandma stitched together from scraps of various family members’ old clothing and presented to the narrator with assurances that, no matter how cold the weather, the love sewn into the quilt will provide necessary warmth through the ages. Whereas “Roses and Rust” has more than a whiff of sadness about it over a treasured spot fast vanishing into wilderness, “Family Quilt,” though low-key, has a positive lilt, a buoyant feeling arising in the immaculate harmonizing of the Rouths and Levi Austin and in the tender, music box-like quality of Gales’s mandolin. These songs speak of homes present only in the singer’s mind’s eye now, but the Stafford-Weisberger album closer, “Just Trying To Get Home,” is an easygoing, uplifting treatise about a rambler whose rootless wanderings have taken on the purpose expressed in the song title; Carolyn and Daniel trade vocals and harmonize soulfully on the choruses of a ballad hewing to its stated course of announcing the narrator’s impending arrival in a place where he’ll put down roots. Quiet country strains, courtesy Greg Luck’s lean, stately fiddling, provide a rustic atmosphere, the singers deliver heartfelt resolve, the lyrics articulate a fitting conclusion to a journey marked by interesting twists and turns along the road back to where we belong. As Paul Simon observed in “Keep the Customer Satisfied,” “Gee but it’s great to be back home.” Nu-Blu knows whereof Simon speaks.

(Note: Kendall Gales, a standout on mandolin on Nu-Blue’s two albums, is no longer with the band. Austin Koerner is now Nu-Blu’s go-to guy on mandolin.)

Nu-Blu’s The Blu-Disc is available at

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