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Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass Bluegrass Troubadour

Donald Teplyske  |  September 6, 2021

2021 Pinecastle Records

Despite a pair of nods as International Bluegrass Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year, most recently in 2020, Danny Paisley's name isn't bandied about within the wider Americana and roots world the way those of Tim O'Brien, Del McCoury, or Dan Tyminski are. With the release of "Bluegrass Troubadour," we can hope that Paisley reaps deserved notice.

When an album opens with Monroe-drenched mandolin notes, in the case here from Paisley's son Ryan, one is pretty excited to be listening to music firmly grounded within the still fertile, traditional ground of bluegrass music. The listener is immediately drawn into an approach disappointingly seldom heard within contemporary settings.

And when the lead vocalist's voice has as much strength as does Paisley's, not just power—although there is plenty of that to spare—but the lived-in experience and authenticity gathered through a life spent immersed in the music, the excitement quickly turns to renewed awe.

We've long known that Danny Paisley is one of the finest singers in the business, and with history going back decades to working with his father Bob in previous incarnations of The Southern Grass, Paisley has always had the bonefides commanding respect. However, with Bluegrass Troubadour, we see Paisley taking another step ahead as he cements not only his deserved presence in the music, but his own portfolio of accomplishments.

It's a concise album, just thirty minutes, but it is a blast of high-quality, energetic, and skilfully-presented bluegrass. A pair of Eric Gibson songs not previously encountered—as far as I can recall—hold up the middle of the album; "He Can't Own Them" and "I Never Was Too Much" are fair standard in composition, clever and interesting, and are executed to the highest level. Stronger are renditions of "I'd Rather Live by the Side of the Road" (featuring Lizzy Long) and "Forty Years of Trouble." Mark Brickman's "Date With an Angel," and the oldie "Long Black Limousine" are presented with sincerity dripping from every note Paisley sings.

The instrumentation of the Southern Grass—Paisley (guitar), Ryan Paisley (mandolin), Bobby Lundy (bass), Mark Delaney (banjo), and Matt Hooper (fiddle)—is of the highest quality, tight and true to the tradition, beautifully mixed and layered from the speakers. Delaney's banjo work throughout but especially on "May I Sleep In Your Barn, Mister" and Ryan's mandolin on his "Fancy Gap Runaway" instrumental deserve special mention, as do Hooper's sparking fiddle contributions. This is a very strong unit.

"Bluegrass Troubadour" is Danny Paisley's finest since his debut at the fore of The Southern Grass, "The Room Over Mine," more than a decade ago. The albums since have been strong and even exemplary, but "Bluegrass Troubadour" elevates his music to a new level.



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