Following a successful 2015 debut release, Mark Kuykendall ("KIRK-en-Dahl") returns with another satisfying collection of straight-ahead, classic bluegrass tunes drawn from an array of great writers from the Golden Era of Nashville (Leon Payne, "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me"; Scott Wiseman, "Remember Me"; Fred Rose, "We Live In Two Different Worlds"; Bill Monroe, "Mary Jane, Won't You Be Mine"), but with a surprise or two like Woody Guthrie's "Sally Don't You Grieve" to sweeten the mix. It's all done in thoroughly professional style featuring Kuykendall's high baritone leads with harmony by Hicks and bassist Nick Dauphinais, with instrumental backup from Mike Hunter (mandolin) and Seth Rhinehart (banjo). With a couple of originals by Kuykendall, it also adds up to a 14-track sampler that covers a lot of territory, tempos and moods.
At the risk of getting a little too deep into the weeds, though, it's worth noting that Bobby Hicks, now in his 80s, is one of the very few musicians still active whose history in bluegrass stretches back to the era when Monroe's new wrinkle in country music was just beginning to catch on. In fact, Hicks' resume includes a few stints in Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, though in recent memory he's likely better known as a longtime sideman for Ricky Skaggs. For more than six decades, he's been among the most versatile fiddle talents in the business, and the two instrumental numbers on "Forever And A Day" are object lessons on why he's been so influential. "Zuma Swing" is a showcase for his considerable swing talents, but on "Ashokan Farewell," he gives a masters class on what has been one of the most frequently recorded tunes of the past 30 years. Long known as one of the best at "double stopping" (playing two strings simultaneously - harder than it sounds), he goes through the first round with a single-string rendition, then comes back with a sweet double-stop version. It just doesn't get any better, fiddle-wise.
Hicks is not the only reason to pay attention to this band though. They're an experienced, well-rounded and entertaining quintet.