In the year or so since their previous release, the cast of Sideline remains anchored by Skip Cherryholmes (guitar), Steve Dilling (banjo), Jason Moore (bass), Bailey Coe (guitar) and Troy Boone (mandolin), but in the interim Daniel Greeson has replaced Nathan Aldridge on fiddle and, according to the liner notes, Aaron Ramsey has been added as a second mandolin player. Judging by this fifth release, though, there's no evidence of any drop-off in the band's vocal and instrumental prowess.
Not many bluegrass ensembles can boast five voices that are equally proficient at both lead and harmony, and there's plenty of room on these 12 new tracks (no instrumentals) for them to demonstrate. Dilling's banjo has been a strong presence on the bluegrass scene for more than three decades while Cherryholmes, on the other hand, was not yet a teenager when the remarkable story of his family's band unfolded at the turn of the century. A remarkable guitar prodigy then, it's rewarding to hear how his talents have matured, especially for those of us who wonder if the distinctive drive and punch of bluegrass rhythm guitar is becoming a lost art.
In an era when, even in bluegrass, artists and bands tend to favor and showcase their own original songs, the Sideline crew goes in the other direction, and it's interesting to note the variety of sources they draw their material from. The opener, "Digging My Own Grave" is a tale of life in the mines, from Jon Weisberger and Josh Shilling; "Twister (Devil's Dance") by Glenn Pace describes the horror of being caught in a tornado; "Crash Course In The Blues" is a Steve Wariner song about falling for the wrong girl in the big city; "Your Selfish Heart" comes from the Stanley Brothers (via their "Ruby Rakes" pseudonym); and "Roll On Blues" comes from Connie Gately, one of the more underappreciated of the regional bluegrass writers and performers of the '50s and '60s. And, it will likely come as a surprise to many that "Amy," a classic tune of betrayal and murder was written by Dobro legend Jerry Douglas.
Also of note is a markedly less morose treatment of the traditional "Down In The Willow Garden" than one usually hears, but which nevertheless conveys the tragedy of the Rose Connelly story. Possibly the most striking tune, though, is their version of "Southern Wind" by Mark Brinkman and Terry Foust, an emotional ballad of watching the old homestead pass out of the family. Sideline is one of those bands that seems to have snuck up on people, but they continue to prove they're worth paying attention to.