Album Review of
Lonesome Pine

Written by Joe Ross
April 24, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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"Lonesome Pine" is a collection of 3-5 cuts apiece from three Blue Highway albums on the Rebel label: It's A Long, Long Road (1995), Wind To The West (1996), Midnight Storm (1998). So this 44-minute compilation of previously released material is a fine "Best of" retrospective for the band from Johnson City, Tennessee that performed its first gig on New Year's Eve in 1994. It's great to see internationally-renowned bluegrass groups as prolific as Blue Highway releasing projects with their best hits. Songs on this project include In The Gravel Yard, Lonesome Pine, He Walked All The Way Home, Blue Ridge Mountain Girl, Some Day, Cold Frosty Morn,Before The Cold Wind Blows, The Rounder, Between The Rows, Flannery's Dream, Last Dollar Blues, Two Coats, It's A Long, Long Road. 

Blue Highway's original lineup included Tim Stafford (guitar), Wayne Taylor (bass), Shawn Lane (mandolin/fiddle), Tony Brown (banjo/fiddle), and Rob Ickes (dobro). Brown doesn't appear on this album, as Jason Burleson took his place and plays banjo or mandolin on these cuts. In 1996, Blue Highway won IBMA awards for "Emerging Artist of the Year" and "Album of the Year" (for "It's a Long Long Road"). In 1997, they won the IBMA award for "Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year" for the song "God Moves in a Windstorm." I wish that song would've been included in this set of hits. In 1998, Burleson left the band and was replaced by Tom Adams who also doesn't appear in any of these cuts. Burleson returned to the band two years later. 

Over the years, Blue Highway has carved out their own niche in bluegrass. Their musical vision has always incorporated accessible melodies, bright lyricism, and interesting dynamics. They can't go wrong with songs like "Blue Ridge Mountain Girl." Taylor's, Stafford's and Lane's songwriting abilities are showcased. Ickes and Burleson have also penned some groovy instrumentals, but none are included in this set. Instead, they choose the old-time "Cold Frost Morn" and rootsy "Flannery's Dream" for the instrumental offerings here. The band has a side with considerable emotional depth, with moving songs like "Some Day" and "Before the Cold Wind Blows." The former, arranged a cappella, shows clearly how splendid their vocalizing can be. The latter, along with the title cut, are both Wayne Taylor originals and are among the band's most requested numbers. Since this CD features previously released material, I wish that the producers would have given us just a bit more than a 44-minute set. I would have lobbied for inclusion of some other originals such as Taylor's "Keen Mountain Prison" and Stafford's "Find Me Out on a Mountain Top." Being from Oregon, I've always liked Stafford's song called "Clear Cut," another hit that isn't included here. Jack Tottle has contributed a fair amount of material to Blue Highway's repertoire, and I was glad that they included one of his to close the album. 

No slouches on their instruments, the guys in the band are award winners. All told, they've released many albums, been nominated for a Grammy, topped the Bluegrass Unlimited chart, won a Dove Award and about a dozen IBMA awards (either as a band or individually). Blue Highway boasts an impressive track record as a contemporary bluegrass band. "Lonesome Pine" only tells part of the story with its documentation of the wave they rode in that time period from 1995-1998. All three of the individual albums sampled were given my highest marks in the past. However, being a compilation, I think it should have included about 17 more minutes of their fine music. "Lonesome Pine" is a very good sampler and great introduction to their music. This 13-track reasonably-priced sampler could very well lead you to purchase all three of the albums from which the cuts are taken. (Joe Ross)