(Self-released, CD, digital download)
On Sunrise Blues, his second "solo" CD release since parting ways with the popular bluegrass band Front Range, Northeast Kingdom bluegrass master Bob Amos once again showcases his many talents. He has just about everything one might need to make catchy and memorable string-band music, including a solid foundation in classic Scruggs-style banjo picking and a crack backup band, Catamount Crossing, who give him seamless rhythmic and harmonic support.
Amos also has a talent for writing ballads, hymns and breakdowns that sound like classics in their genre. It's actually a surprise to find that these songs and tunes haven't been around for years.
Another great pleasure of Sunrise Blues is the harmony singing of Sarah and Nate Amos, Bob's kids, at just the right moments. The elder Amos has a fine singing voice of his own, featured most notably on his chillingly sparse hymn "My Heavenly Home" (also featuring Nate Amos' harmonies), and on "Mr. Beford's Barn," a sweet story ballad that really does deserve to be a classic.
But it gets even better with Sarah's voice in the mix. Her lead singing on another of her dad's ballads, "Where Are You Now," is perfectly gorgeous, but her solo voice doesn't carry the breathtaking clout of her talents as a harmonist. She has a genius for blending, and her father, who engineered and mastered the album, has placed his harmony singers perfectly in the mix to allow them to shine.
The Amos family apparently knows it's got something special, and wisely doesn't push the point; the three just knock you out with their singing. When Bob and Sarah Amos sing together on the refrain to his lovely, A.P. Carter-style number "Reunion" and on the bluegrass classic "Midnight on the Stormy Deep," all is right with the world.
With great songwriting, impeccable playing that honors bluegrass tradition and vocals that can stop you in your tracks, Sunrise Blues has my vote for Vermont acoustic music recording of the year. More, please.
Bob Amos and Catamount Crossing will be picking and singing on their home turf this week as the featured performers on Catamount Arts Bluegrass Night in St. Johnsbury this Saturday, September 20.
Sunrise Blues by Bob Amos is available at cdbaby.com.