Though his words are building the story, the music is setting the mood, and all of our senses are at once under the spellbinding control of one Alan Bibey & Grasstowne in the song “Crime at Quiet Dell.” “Crime at Quiet Dell” is joined by ten other tracks on the new album Hitchhiking to California, and there’s a case to be made for it being just as single-worthy as “Blue Collar Blues” is. There truly isn’t a stitch of filler for us to get through in this album; Bibey and his band have gone great lengths to make this as muscular an affair as possible, and for my taste, they did a terrific job.
Linguistics really are only half of this troubadour’s toolkit in Hitchhiking to California, with the other being the harmonies lent to every song here. There’s much to be learned about the bluegrass narrative itself just by taking in the love Grasstowne show for one another in the likes of “I Don’t Know When,” “Lonesomeville” and “I Want to Be Loved (But Only By You),” and although you could say the spotlight is usually transfixed on Bibey’s movements, there are plenty of instances – such as “Daddy & Me (ft. Darin & Brooke Aldridge)” – where he unselfishly lets the talent behind him take the wheel.
The lead single “Blue Collar Blues” has a gentle tone to its rebelliousness that I immediately loved, and paired with “Rhythm of the Rails,” the title cut and “When He Calls My Name,” I think this band actually had enough for a very well-rounded EP. I like that they stuck it out in the studio and created the rest of this album, but the very fact that so much of this material feels elevated from what the status quo would normally call for verifies the importance of a group like Alan Bibey & Grasstowne in 2021.
Even when taking a groove a bit more delicately, there’s an urgency present to the cover of “Take the Long Way Home” and “I Want to Be Loved (But Only by You)” unattached to any anxiousness on the part of the players. Bibey is keeping everyone as tightly-knit as a frontman can within the confines of a recording studio here, and while some instances see them getting restless with the rhythm, it consistently feeds into catharsis on the other side of every chorus.
To those who might be in the mood for something equally pure and provocative on their stereo this March, Alan Bibey & Grasstowne’s Hitchhiking to California needs to be a mandatory acquisition. Led by “Blue Collar Blues,” there isn’t anything worth skipping over here – truth be told, I think this album is best enjoyed uninterrupted, much as a progressive piece would be. The only real concept to Hitchhiking to California is good musicians making great music in the most timeless way a set of players still can these days, and for most of us, that’s enough to deem it an instant classic.
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