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Clay Hess Band

Just Another Story – 2018 (Pinecastle)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Clay Hess Band

Though superlative guitarist Clay Hess has a couple of solo CDs to his credit, this represents only the second release by the eponymous band he pulled together some seven years ago. The first was on a small, local label in his native Ohio, but this time around he steps out on the revitalized Pinecastle label with a cast of veterans and youngsters that includes his own son, Brennan as a backup guitarist and vocalist. Dustin Frame (mandolin) and Brady Wallen (banjo) are both also talents who are relatively new to the scene, but bass player Irl Hees is among the steadiest bluegrass veterans of the past few decades.

Hess himself is also a well-known quantity of several years now through his work with Ricky Skaggs and others. He's rightly regarded among the elite flatpickers of these times, and his fluid guitar lines stand out as one of the strongest hooks throughout the 10 tracks. He's also a quality vocalist, though not in the classic Monroe-style high tenor fashion. His easy-going baritone is comfortable in the lower ranges, but he's at his best when he can sharpen it up, as here on Jimmie Rodger's "Blue Yodel #2" ("If you've ever had the blues, you know just how I feel...") and on Carl Perkins' rockabilly classic, "Reckless."

The rest of the material also highlights a willingness to stretch out and take a stab at songs not normally thought of a "bluegrass" tunes. The title is a line from "Someplace In France," a tale of a G.I. lost in World War II, while the closer, "Anita, You're Dreaming" is a Waylon Jennings/Don Bowman tune. Perhaps the most inspired (and classiest) selection, though, is "The Field Behind The Plow" by the great Canadian singer and songwriter Stan Rogers, and Hees turns in a marvelous lead vocal on it.

This is not particularly hard-core bluegrass, but Hess is well-steeped in the tradition, and all the tracks here are appealing no matter where your "grass meter" checks in.