Wilson Banjo Co. - Spirits in the Hills
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Spirits in the Hills (Pinecastle, 2017)

Wilson Banjo Co.

Reviewed by Devin Adams

The many moving parts of South Carolina's Wilson Banjo Co. are running like a well-oiled machine. The band formed in the wake of interest created, by founder Steve Wilson's 2015 promotional EP, "The Guardian," that was intended to market the sound and quality of Wilson's latest banjo build. (Wilson is a luthier).

"Spirits In The Hills" draws its strength from its diversity. Mandolin picker Brandon Couch and fiddle player and East Tennessee State University student Sarah Logan primarily handle lead vocal responsibility; however, with the exception of bassist Michael Branch, everyone gets a turn. The number of different voices creates an almost-mix-tape feel.

Several tracks stand out including a rendition of "Catfish John" that ends with a short sample of "Delta Dawn," as well as "Her Sunday Best," a touching remembrance of mama. "Ain't No Grave," the first single, topped the bluegrass gospel chart, all of which feature Logan on lead vocals. Logan's voice is raw and has a jagged edge on it from time to time, refreshing in the age of auto-tune and over production. She well avoids any vocal gymnastics and delivers a smooth and controlled presentation.

Familiar songwriters litter the liner notes, including Mike Bentley, who along with Terry Foust contribute "Railroad Man," a platform giving Wilson a chance to hit some good banjo rolls and take a turn at the microphone. Brink Brinkman, who seems to have a song on nearly every bluegrass project (and rightfully so), contributes the title track. Lester Flatt's "I'll Stay Around" again features Logan on vocals, while Michael Martin Murphey's standard "Carolina In The Pines" allows guitar picker Joey Newton his turn to add to the mix. Other tracks stand out as well, including "40 Years of Trouble" and David Carroll's "Thumbin' Down from Richmond Town."

The variety of voices and collection of talent gives credit and strength to the recording, creating an enjoyable and authentic bluegrass experience.

CDs by Wilson Banjo Co.

Spirits in the Hills, 2017

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