Black Music Matters Festival

Mountain Heart

The Road That Never Ends – 2007 (Rural Rhythm)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Mountain Heart

Responding to numerous requests over the years for a live album that captures the energy and dynamic quality of Mountain Heart's stage show, this disc features the bluegrass band captured live at The Ark, a venerable acoustic venue of long standing in Ann Arbor, Mich., in March 2007.

Perhaps even more significant, it marks a fundamental transition and change in the band's vocal sound. After co-founding the band with banjo player Barry Abernathy nearly a decade ago, guitarist and lead singer Steve Gulley departed to form Grasstowne in late 2006. Newcomer Josh Shilling proves to be a dynamic replacement, a powerful vocalist along the lines of the likes of a John Cowan. Longtime fans of the band are bound to miss Gulley's down-home, traditional sound, but Shilling brings a new edge to the band's gradual move to a more progressive Americana sound.

It's still mostly straight-ahead bluegrass here, though, with live versions of crowd favorites "Mountain Man" and "Gospel Train" (the original album on which it appeared is out of print). Shilling does a nice bluesy turn on "It Works Both Ways" as well as accompanying himself on piano on an intriguing version of the Allman Brothers's "Whipping Post." Whatever direction they're headed in, this finds them still among the most exciting bands in bluegrass.