Album Review of

Written by Joe Ross
October 20, 2015 - 12:00am EDT
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Both Jeanette and Johnny Williams’ lead vocals have a dynamic force and magnetic charm that reveal a natural inclination for honest, sincere messages in their largely original songs. The perfect backdrop for these vocals is the melodious instrumental accompaniment. Songs with beautiful, life-affirming tales are the fare of 1-800-LONESOME, the title cut written by Tom T. and Dixie Hall. “Down Hearted” was also penned by the same team. 

Johnny Williams is an award winning singer and songwriter from Virginia. He took first place in the bluegrass division of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest in 1998 and 1999. Besides with The Jeanette Williams Band,  Johnny’s songs have been recorded by Rambler's Choice, New Classic Grass, Larry Stephenson, Honi Deaton & Dream, and Special Consensus. As President of the Dan River Region Bluegrass Association, he works tirelessly to promote the music there.

Although this is guitarist/singer Johnny Williams’ debut project, it is really another Jeanette Williams Band project with Jeanette (bass, vocals), Marsha Bowman (banjo), Stephen Fraleigh (fiddles), and Ashby Frank (mandolin) prominently featured throughout. Sally Jones sings baritone on the title cut. The band imparts some powerful intensity on a number of songs, with their straightforward drive being most apparent on “Sweethearts in Heaven,” a song written by Buck Owens.

With other songs written by Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Ron Spears, Jimmy Haley, Jeremy Garrett, and Bill Bryson, 1-800-LONESOME picks some material with compelling narratives. The album comes to a close with the songcrafting of Johnny taking the spotlight. Four of the last five cuts on the CD were penned by Johnny. “Sailor’s Regret” is a tale of sorrow with the refrain “this ol’ country boy is afraid of dying at sea.” Marsh Bowman’s clawhammer banjo set an old-time stage for an instrumental “Round Woods.”

“I Cling to Your Memory” has a slower ¾ time, and the band wisely incorporates Fraleigh’s twin fiddles to give it a plaintive mournfulness so characteristic of bluegrass of the lonesome variety. To close the album, Johnny sings “When the Blue Ridge Turns to Red and Gold,” a tale of returning home to one’s true love.  (Joe Ross)