Leaving Is Believing (Mountain Home, 2023)
Reviewed by Jim Hynes
At the intersection of traditional country and bluegrass, Frank's songs check all the major boxes – inspired lyrics, his clean, dexterous mandolin playing and elite bandmates such as Jerry Douglas, Andrea Zonn, Melonie Cannon, John Cowan, Ronnie Bowman, Jason Carter and many more.
Frank penned just three of the 13 songs here, perhaps the most notable being the whimsical "Paintball Gun." He says he originally had the Darrell Brothers in mind to record it, but that didn't happen. Instead, he renders it here with his Mountain Heart bandmates Seth Taylor and Travis Anderson together with Tina Adair, Joshua Hunt, Thomas Wywrot,Bowman, Carter and Douglas. It's about a man about to cheat on his wife who gets caught at the last minute.
He opens with The Replacements' Paul Westerberg's "Any Trouble," more commonly associated with Glen Campbell and featuring a similar backing cast. He does a stellar bluegrass take on Tom Paxton's well-known "Where I'm Bound" and a tender reading of Bruce Hornsby's "Every Little Kiss" among the covers, all worthy takes, especially "Sea of South Dakota," a gently flowing ballad featuring Zonn's fiddle and harmonies. Throughout Frank's rich tenor vocals are clear, emotive, and easy on the ears.
The title track, written by Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes, is a standout. The song is about taking that first step on your own after exiting a bad situation. Frank sings it with the conviction and confidence that would encourage almost any listening to this hard-earned advice. Along with the aforementioned musicians, it features his The Likely Culprits bandmate Melonie Cannon on harmony vocals.
Claiming that 24 years was well worth the wait seems a bit hyperbolic, but this impressive work from Frank certainly makes up for some lost time.
CDs by Ashby Frank
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