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Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers

Bluegrass is a very sophisticated style of music that demands a lot more than just a player dedicated to studious repetition to capture the essence of its aesthetical makeup, and few artists deliver a more genuine sampling of the genre than Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers do. In their new album For the Record, the five piece juggernaut pummels us with raw emotion in “Here and Now,” “Acres of Diamonds,” “A Folded Flag” and “Dreamers Hill” while consistently demonstrating their impressive command of the string instruments that they play. This latest LP is among the most significant we’re going to hear this season, and it lives up to all of the high expectations surrounding its release.

The violent groove-maker “Things That I Like” sports a textured melody that is only rivaled by the yearning vocal in “I Want to Know More About My Lord” and the liberally-applied melodies of “O-hio,” and the master mix in each of these songs ensures that we’re truly able to absorb every sonic stitch of luster that this record brings to the table. The rhythm reaches right through our speakers and synchronizes with our hearts in “Tell Me True” and the poignant “A Folded Flag,” but none of these songs overshadow the others joining them in the tracklist.

Conventional framework dominates “Acres of Diamonds,” “Dreamers Hill,” “Bacon in My Beans” and “Georgia Slammer,” though I think that it’s important to note that the harmonies found in these songs are anything but ordinary. Mullins dabbles with traditional structures throughout the course of For the Record, but by and large this is a really captivating LP that doesn’t comfortably fit within the boxy categorization devised by more rigid music critics than myself. This is a bluegrass album, make no mistake about it, but to suggest that it’s limited by the parameters of its style simply wouldn’t be true.

In Mullins’ collaboration with Del McCoury, the single “The Guitar Song” (co-written by Bill Anderson, Jamey Johnson and Vicky McGehee), the strings are telling us just as much of a story as the words being sung to us are, only adding to an enticing creative depth that For the Record has in spades. The same can be said of “Tell Me True” and the unforgettable “That Old Wheel,” and more than in previous efforts by Mullins and his Radio Ramblers, I get the feeling that the band wants us to be focused more on the relationship between the lyrics and the music in these songs than the unassuming hooks that they each boast.

You don’t have to be the biggest bluegrass fan to fall in love with what Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers have accomplished in For the Record, but for those of us who live and die for a cutting collection of Appalachian-style grooves, it doesn’t get much better than these twelve songs and their highbrow arrangements. After giving tracks like “Dreamers Hill” and “Things That I Like” all of my attention over the past week, there’s not a doubt left in my mind that this album is doing to be one of the best of 2019, and after hearing it for yourself, I think that you’re going to agree with me.

Mindy McCall

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