(Vital Records, CD)
Vermont's merchants of traditional music, the Bluegrass Gospel Project, return with their third release, Wander On. Recorded live in concert throughout the Northeast between December '03 and November '04, the disc is a fine overview of the group's homey sound. Blending old-time styles such as folk, bluegrass and gospel with subtle pop sensibility, the seven-piece has become one of New England's premier concert acts.
Prominently featuring the rich, convincing voice of Patti Casey, the group weaves effortlessly between winsome harmonies and impassioned instrumental work. The traditional track "A Beautiful Life" is a terrific example of the band's harmonic blend -- a soulful stack of complementary vocal tones. It's this juxtaposition between foot-stomping licks and sonorous singing that make the group so compelling.
Casey's tender side finds voice on her original composition "I'm Not Finished With You Yet." The yearning melody and lyrics recount a timeless tale of romantic loss, as the protagonist barters with a departing lover. "All the time in the world is what I thought that we would get," she sings. "But now you're walking away, and I'm not finished with you yet." A common sentiment to be sure, but you gotta hear her sing it.
"Come Let Us Go Back to God" brings the band's gospel influence to the fore; the tune's a cappella harmonies are gorgeous and authentic. Meticulously arranged, the track showcases Bluegrass Gospel Project's reverence for their source material.
Bela Fleck's instrumental composition "The Lights of Home" is pretty, albeit a tad schmaltzy. The track might be more appropriate in the banjo virtuoso's own repertoire; it seems somewhat out of place here.
"Past the Point of Rescue" brings Casey back to the center of focus. Once again playing the role of wronged paramour, she sounds bitter and harried -- hardly the coquettish victim we heard previously. Terrific solos from Taylor Amerding and Steve Light drive the tune along as fiddler Gene White, Jr., and guitarist Andy Greene keep the pace with gentle precision.
Another original composition, "Breath of the Devil," deals with the time-honored tradition of blaming one's ill actions on infernal sources. "What can I do?" the singers ask. "The Devil calls my name, dear God -- tell me, what can I do?"
Sin, heartache, worship, redemption -- it's all here. Available on Feb. 5, Wander On is another fine release from a group that deserves every accolade it gets.