Mountain Heart

Mountain Heart – 1999 (Doobie Shea)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

CDs by Mountain Heart

On their debut, Mountain Heart deftly solve the classic bluegrass dilemma: how to coherently blend tradition and progress. These talented vets (of Doyle Lawson's Quicksilver and Blue Ridge Mountains) tackle songs old and new and imbue them with heartfelt singing, a solid rhythmic foundation, and ingenious instrumental quirks. From roaring neckbreakers like "Katy Cline" (with a jaw-dropping mandolin solo by Alan Perdue) to more contemporary acoustic pop songs,

Mountain Heart has brought us the most engaging bluegrass debut of the year.It's the instrumental subtleties that elevate this record beyond the standard bluegrass-by-numbers fair so common today. Turn your head, and you'll miss the stop-time banjo/bass/mandolin hits that kick off "Gambler's Lament." The same tune cleverly shifts gears - from straight bluegrass to Celtic-flavored fiddle music - as the song's protagonists confronts the gallows. Vince Gill's "Midnight Train" gains momentum from an instantaneous modulation preceding the mandolin solo.

The album's softer moments only add to the record's impact. "It's the Love" is a powerful showcase for Heart's flawless trio singing. And closing the album with singer/guitarist Steve Gulley's intense spiritual reflection "Patching It Up" (performed solo by Steve) is bold maneuver that works beautifully. From sacred to secular, love songs to murder ballads, Mountain Heart does it all flawlessly and - most importantly - with charisma and personality.