Album Review of
Bluegrass 2022 (feat. Scott Vestal, Randy Kohrs, Tim Crouch, Cody Kilby & Byron House)

Written by Joe Ross
July 12, 2022 - 12:47am EDT
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On Bluegrass 2022, Nashville banjo-player and engineer Scott Vestal is joined by a stellar group of bluegrassers - Cody Kilby (guitar), Byron House (bass), Tim Crouch (fiddle), Randy Kohrs (resophonic guitar) and Jonah Horton (mandolin). One might think these ten tracks are rather standard familiar instrumental classics, but these guys are able to breathe some present-day fire and life into these sturdy, tuneful gems.  For traditional fare, they do a bang-up job covering John Hardy, Reuben, Blackberry Blossom and Train 45. Everyone gets a piece of the action, with improvised solos that are smart, tasty and full of style. For “Reuben,” Vestal uses a D-tuning, and he also incorporates some harmonics (bell tones) into one break. Their rendition of “Blackberry Blossom” has a few colorings of a reggae groove, as well as short interludes in 6/8-jig time that make you smile. Vestal and Co. clearly had fun and amused themselves while recording.

In a solid bluegrass festival jam session, you’ll also encounter tunes like Bill Monroe’s “Gold Rush,” David Grisman’s “EMD,” and Vassar Clements’ “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.” Certainly, these tunes are typically particularly nice showpieces for the fiddle and mandolin, but it’s also a pleasure to hear the rest of them take solos too, including House with bass breaks on “EMD” and “Steam Powered Aereo Plane.”     

Most bluegrass music lovers are familiar with Vestal, Kilby, House, Crouch, Kohrs and their accomplishments. It was gracious of these experienced musicians to also include 21-year-old up-and-comer Jonah Horton from Wilkesboro, N.C.  Playing mandolin since he was seven, Horton has won contests, competitions and scholarships. He’s been involved with other recording projects, including “Generation Bluegrass 2” and “Close Kin: Our Roots Run Deep” with other talented young musicians from across the country.

For more contemporary fare, the Bluegrass 2022 gang turn Bill Emerson’s “Welcome to New York,” Tony Rice’s “Tipper” and John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aereo Plane” into melodically compelling versions and splendid tributes to honor these three performers who have passed on. While the annual bluegrass instrumental albums from the Pinecastle label received much praise (and radio airplay) in the mid-1990s, they were discontinued for nearly two decades. Revived in 2020, they’re meant to create fresh, memorable, trendy musical instrumental experiences for us listeners. If you also play bluegrass, they’re great to study for some new ideas and licks.

Although the International Bluegrass Music Assn. awards won’t be announced until September, several of these pickers are in the running. In addition to “Instrumental Group of the Year,” the all-star Bluegrass 2022 line-up is in the running for “Collaborative Recording of the Year” and “Instrumental Recording of the Year” for the lead single “EMD.” In my humble opinion, this album (and its cast of characters) are all winners! (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)