Underneath all of the songs is a passionate driving soul sound that comes through loud and clear. Two originals, “One Lonely Thought of You” and “Wake Up, the Party’s Over” harken back to the honky tonk era of country music, back to the days before bluegrass and country music split into two distinct musical genres. Tunes like these provide some diversity for the listener without making the album sound like a scrapbook of mismatched sounds. The country groove gives the vocals a chance to swing a little and provides a perfect set up for the full-out-downhill-no-brakes attack of a song like “Riding on that Northbound Train”. The band can clearly play fast but if every song was simply a variation on standard bluegrass boom-chick rhythms it wouldn’t hold your interest for long, fortunately that’s not the case here.
The album contains two instrumentals “The Road to Westcliffe” from banjo player Chris Elliot and Gary Dark’s “Shinjuku Station” both of which provide a chance for the various players to show off some fancy licks in service to the melody and that’s an important point. Instrumentals through the history of bluegrass have been some of the most famous tunes, the ones everyone knows and the reason they stay with you is that there’s a strong, usually fairly simple, melody at the forefront. I was pleased to hear a mid-tempo instrumental in “Road to Westcliffe”, a nice reminder that not every banjo tune has to be a barn burner. I began by making the comparison with the Osborne Brothers and their diverse yet consistent sound (remember their most popular songs came from writers outside the bluegrass genre) and that comparison is most evident on rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Time”. For a surprising cover tune to work several things have to be in place. First and foremost, the song has to work in the bluegrass style, this may involve some re-arranging but of course you have to be careful not to tamper too much or the song loses its unique flavor. When you choose a song from one of the best selling albums of all time and that album on the surface appears to be as far away from bluegrass as possible you run the risk of having it seem like a joke, a little wink and a nod. That can work for a moment or two, but ten seconds into the song you’re ready for the next course. With this tune from Dark Side of the Moon the band capitalizes on the melody which sounds like it was meant for the high lonesome sound. I especially enjoyed the section of the song where the tempo changes and the guitar solo features some heavy reverb and other effects, this is a key part of the original recording and including it in this cover version really makes this version work. When you’re doing a song like this, it shows attention to detail to pick the important elements of the song to highlight.
That attention to detail is evident throughout the album, the mix of material flows wonderfully from track to track, each one sounding as if they’re right where they should be. When you can go from a sparse Bill Monroe gospel tune all the way to Pink Floyd progressive rock without missing a beat you’re doing something right. With this new album, simply titled The Blue Canyon Boys (perhaps it will be known as “The Blue Album”) the band is doing more than a few things right.