Black Music Matters Festival

Beacon Hillbillies

Better Place – 1996 (East Side Digital)

Reviewed by Eric Zehnbauer

CDs by Beacon Hillbillies

For those of you who like to hear traditional bluegrass instrumentation without the heavy drums and slick production that's prevalent on many "country" music albums today, the Beacon Hillbillies are just the ticket. A four-man acoustic bluegrass band composed of John McGann (guitar), Jim Whitney (bass), Jimmy Ryan (mandolin) and Lauck Benson (banjo), they play a refreshing kind of music that's so old it's new. And expert pickers they all are!

This album consists of 12 (including one hidden) tracks, four of which are instrumentals. The instrumentals are the best tracks, since the main problem throughout the album is Ryan and McGann's weak vocals, at times just not strong enough and at others sounding strained.

The band shows definite influences from Celtic music, as well as a talent for pacing the tunes right, from toe-tapping numbers where the banjo stands out, to dark, moody numbers such as "Midnight Sun." The variety of song styles doesn't allow one to become bored. Now, if they could only find a stronger vocalist.