This six-song debut EP from the Nashville-based Vickie Vaughn Band features the increasingly prevalent blend of country, folk and bluegrass that factor as components of a 'big tent' view of acoustic music.
Co-produced by Ronnie McCoury and the band, this introductory calling card best showcases the group's impressive instrumental abilities. Mandolinist Casey Campbell assumes a handful of leads, notably on the EP's strongest cut, a cover of A.P. Carter's "Workin' On A Building." Banjoist Justin Hiltner, who also wrote two numbers including the instrumental "Congaree," presents an appealing, clear tone. Additionally, Maggie Estes White demonstrates her talents as a vibrant fiddler, while guitarist Zach White contributes a memorable song, "Northbound 205."
The drawback is the lack of heft apparent whenever Vaughn herself takes the lead vocal position. Her voice is rich, with depth and character - "Buy All the Roads" is an aching song, and she does it justice, no doubt - but the band pulls so far back when she is sings that they fade away. When they don't, as on Cahalen Morrison's "Won't Be Long," it is Vaughn who is buried. Contrast this to early Alison Krauss, say "Two Highways" or "Love You In Vain," where the lead vocals absolutely project above the vital and present instrumentation.
Is it fair to compare Vaughn to arguably bluegrass's greatest female voice? No. But - as presented here - The Vickie Vaughn Band falls short against the standard established for bluegrass vocalists.
"The Vickie Vaughn Band" is an uneven presentation of modern bluegrass that isn't without appeal. They do need to find better ways to balance their strengths.