Over the course of nearly two decades Blue Moon Rising has carved out a reputation as a young bluegrass outfit featuring a nice blend of vocal and instrumental expertise, along with solid songwriting and arranging skills. That's all still a part of the mix on this seventh release.
Guitarist Chris West contributes a pair of soul-searching love ballads, "I'm Leaving You" and "I Know Love Now," and he and bassist Tim Tipton and mandolin player Keith Garrett team up for "Gun That Never Was For Sale," the story of a treasured hunting rifle - told from the gun's point of view - that ends up stolen and sitting on a pawnbroker's shelf. It's not politically slanted in any particular direction, but it's a thoughtful and compelling piece of music. Additionally, there are nods to the pioneers who preceded them, in particular Flatt and Scruggs ("We'll Meet Again, Sweetheart") and a nicely produced version of a Ralph Stanley gospel tune, "They Won't Believe."
It's always fascinating, though, to see what happens when an artist or band reaches out across genres for material that, in this particular case, aren't necessarily thought of as "bluegrass songs," and there are three noteworthy examples. The opening track, "Dollar Bill Blues" is a Townes Van Zandt tune that, in their hands, works nicely in a bluegrass setting. "He Had A Long Chain On" is a musical ghost story of sorts from the voluminous catalog of Jimmy Driftwood, the Arkansas history teacher whose penchant for entertaining his students musically to keep them interested led to more than 1,000 songs from the 1950s onward, including folk and country hits like "Tennessee Stud" and "The Battle of New Orleans." "Chain" is pretty deep into the catalog, but it makes for a gutsy - and classy - addition.
Perhaps most surprising is "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," a song that has become something of a generational marker. Your grandparents probably danced to Buddy Holly's version. Your parents wore out the grooves on Linda Ronstadt's version in the mid-1970s, but it was written by Paul Anka in the early years of his career, more than six decades ago. The Blue Moon Rising take is decidedly more up-tempo than Ronstadt's introspective, haunting rendition, but it's still a moving song that works well in this setting.
There are interesting things that can be said about all 13 tracks, but in the end it comes down to this being another solid effort from a very solid band.