Album Review of
Walking Down the Line

Written by Joe Ross
June 3, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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James Alan Shelton’s ninth solo album (and another on his own Sheltone Records label after release of his gospel compilation, “Gospel Guitar” SR-1960) is one that pays tribute to a variety of bluegrass, country and folk inspirations in his life. The experienced lead guitarist for Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys takes us on wild and thrilling rides with “Soldier’s Joy” and “Salt Creek” as Steve Sparkman’s banjo is played in Ralph’s mountainous style. Some of Shelton’s other key influences are an eclectic list that includes Bill Monroe, Carter Family, Osborne Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, Country Gentlemen, Clarence White, Randy Scruggs, Roger Miller, Tony Ellis, Stephen Foster, Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel. Shelton’s my kind of musician because his individualism emphasizes variety.

I found it surprising that “Walking Down The Line” is the first album to ever feature his singing. Besides the title cut, he chooses “Motherless Children” and “Hard Times Come No More” to showcase his pleasant, affable baritone vocal talents. An eclectic set like Shelton’s has plenty to enthuse fans who appreciate unpretentious, modest lead vocals in the lower range. Dewey Brown sings tenor on the three vocal numbers, and Judy Marshall provides harmony vocals on two of them.

The formidable picking on “Walking Down The Line” is the result of some fine melodic mettle from the likes of Adam Steffey (mandolin), Steve Sparkman (banjo), Dewey Brown (fiddle), Audey Ratliff (rhythm guitar), and Daniel Grindstaff (banjo), and Barry Bales (bass). Besides lead guitar on all the tracks, James Alan Shelton also dubbed in the banjo track on “Stephen,” a down-to-earth and unassuming old-time flavored tune by Tony Ellis that never sounds anachronistic. James Alan Shelton presents his warm music without any pompous or showy airs. These are the kinds of songs that have made James what he is today as a well-rounded musician. His repertoire emphasizes much-loved pieces that we have fond places for in our hearts. (Joe Ross)