High Fidelity - Hills and Home
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Hills and Home (Rebel, 2018)

High Fidelity

Reviewed by John Lupton

No matter the genre, it's a familiar experience through the ages to listen to an album that contains a couple of "hits" or "classics" and discover that there are usually a couple or three songs among the "filler" that are as good or better than the "showcased" tracks. Over the course of their four years - so far - as a working bluegrass band, that's more or less been the approach of the High Fidelity quintet (Jeremy Stephens, banjo and guitar; Corrina Logston Stephens, fiddle; Daniel Amick, mandolin; Kurt Stephenson, banjo and guitar; Vickie Vaughan, bass).

Any band can churn out yet another version of a timeworn standard that's been done to death, but these folks seek out and revisit the songs that haven't gotten the full measure of attention they deserve. The 14 tracks feature a mix of secular and faith-related tunes from big time talents ranging from Charlie Monroe ("My Mother's White Rose") to A. P. Carter ("I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow") to Jim and Jesse ("I Will Always Be Waiting For You"), all delivered in a vocal and instrumental style that has drawn frequent comparisons to Don Reno and Red Smiley (and yes, with two banjo players in the band, there are a couple of "dual banjo" cuts).

Given their propensity to look for the unexpected, it may strike some as a contradiction that the album closes with "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," but it's actually a remarkable demonstration of the band's willingness to get "deep in the weeds" to bring out the best in a song. The version that most people know, complete with undertakers and hearses, is from a reworking by the Carter Family (and later, Johnny Cash) that was recorded as "Can The Circle Be Unbroken." The version presented here is the original, written as a hymn in the early 1900s. Though it's now in the public domain (and the band credits it as "Traditional"), the lyrics and music are known to have been authored respectively by Ada Habershon and Charles Gabriel. Far from being mournful and depressing, it is in its root form an expression of wonderment and hope that will strike many as superior to the "standard" Carter version. By presenting this version, the band highlights the fact that they take the "Fidelity" part of their name seriously.

CDs by High Fidelity

Banjo Player's Blues, 2020 Hills and Home, 2018

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