Album Review of
Living in the South

Label: Rebel

Genres: Bluegrass, Blues

Styles: Contemporary Bluegrass, Bluegrass, Blues

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Written by Joe Ross
March 12, 2023 - 10:44am EDT
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Veteran musicians who have been playing bluegrass since they were kids, Starlett and Big John began their journey together in 2019. Their first album, Till the End of the Road (Turnberry Records) featured these high profile artists and their outstanding talent in a more traditional vein.  A couple songs from that project, "Sugar Coated Love" and "True Life Blues" received excellent airplay around the U.S.

Now associated with the reputable Rebel Records label, the duo that hail from North Carolina and Virginia have released Living in the South with a continuation of their hard hitting bluegrass drive and robust vocals in a more contemporary setting. The album has already achieved #5 on The Roots Music Report's Top 50 Contemporary Bluegrass Album Chart (during the week of February 11, 2023).  Up-tempo songs like “Back Away Little Heart” and “My Brown Eyed Darling” allow both to vocalize with a copious amount of spirit and energy, while the duo’s self-penned numbers like “The Tie That Binds,” “Slowly Let Me Down” and “Clean Slate” are full of effervescent emotion and poignancy as Starlett’s angelic voice and Talley’s downhome grit create something truly unique and pleasurable to the ears.

While Starlett sings lead on most of the songs, Big John’s booming bluegrass voice is featured when he sings lead on two numbers. With musical dynamics that draw you in, Starlett and Big John Talley bring an intensely soulful loveliness to the lyrics of their songs. David Carroll (banjo), Jonathan Dillon (mandolin) and Ron Stewart (fiddle, harmony vocals) complement the tasteful arrangements. Stewart even tracks some understated Dobro on the title cut.

From Ruffin, North Carolina, Starlett Boswell Austin grew up in Cascade, Virginia and began singing on stage at age four. She plays guitar and upright bass.  For a decade, she was lead singer and bass player with the North Carolina band called Lawson Creek Grass. From Southampton County, Virginia, Big John Talley has been performing since the early 1980s. At age 16, Talley won Male Vocalist of the Year from the Virginia Folk Music Association. At age 17, he began performing with the New Dominion Bluegrass Boys and with that group appeared on the Grand Ole Opry as a guest of Bill Monroe. In 2021, the duo signed with Turnberry Records and released their debut album.

Signed with Rebel Records since 2022, Living in the South is an excellent selection of radio-friendly radio fare with standout tracks including “Makin' Tracks to Macon,” “The Ties That Bind” and “Living in the South.”  (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)