CD-249 Al Jones "Hard Core Bluegrass"
"I sing it like I feel it." - Al Jones
There are plenty of great singers, but there are few unique voices. Al Jones is one of those few who has the kind of voice that, once you hear it, you will always know who it is whenever you hear it again. There are those that copy and those that are copied, and Al is definitely one of the latter. Even at the age of eighty-one, he still hits notes that that would cause younger men to reach and strain, with pinpoint pitch and piercing clarity. As you listen, bear in mind that this CD was recorded live, with no overdubs. That voice is all Al. Imbued with a lifetime of living, heartache, good times and defiance, Al's is the voice of experience; one of the few we have left that has lived through a depression and a world war. A voice that is weathered but unbowed; the voice of a free spirit, that has no intention of being stifled by time. Al Jones is a force of nature.
"I ain't playin' no modern music." - Al Jones
Born in the mountains of Grayson Country, Virginia, in 1932, Al left one fertile, burgeoning hotbed of music to make his mark on another, as one of the major players on the Washington DC / Baltimore bluegrass scene in the sixties. It is fitting this collection kicks off with Earl Taylor's "Calling Your Name," as that is a number Al would have performed several times as one of Taylor's Stony Mountain Boys in 1960. But Al is likely best remembered for his partnership with Maryland bluegrass legend Frank Necessary, with whom he cut several albums and was featured in the very first issue of Bluegrass unlimited. "My Friend Frank" was written by Al for his longtime partner, who passed away in 2011. Perhaps the most poignant performance included here is of Bill Monroe's "Cheap Love Affair." There are things that can't be written here, but just look at the picture on the cover and listen to the words, and you will understand. Al Dusts off a couple of Hylo Brown chestnuts with "Stonewall" and "Love and Wealth," and wrings every drop of lonesome out of Jimmy Martin's "Homesick." The proceedings are brought a close with Martin's "This World is Not My Home," in proper bluegrass tradition. The material included here is pure classic bluegrass, while never being obvious or cliché.
Al is supported by a fine band of musicians well-heeled in DC / Baltimore bluegrass. Mandolinist Tom Mindte provides a fine lead vocal for Al to sing against, as well as his appealing meld of the mandolin styles of Monroe and Busby. Russ Hooper embellishes the proceedings with dobro licks not heard since the glory days of Josh Graves, while Patrick McAvenue's fiddling is simply elegant, almost floating above the music. Banjoist Tom Neal is always tasteful, and provides some exquisite backup flourishes, while bassist Jerry Steinberg, holds it down, effortlessly shifting to walking bass when appropriate. On the whole, these songs do not beckon many hot licks, and this band is artful enough to play to the material, with satisfying results. In the end, this CD is about the songs and the singing; about Al Jones and his voice. - Joseph L. Scott