Patuxent CD 315 Five Mile Mountain Road
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Growing up in coastal Virginia, I heard my share of bluegrass and old time music. Even as a boy I could hear the differences between the two, as well as their shared roots. But something I didn’t recognize until I relocated to the Appalachian region was that old time musicians in the mountains didn’t always play stately, rural chamber music like the folks I had heard growing up. Out here the music is rough and rowdy, furious and impolite, and plain old fun to listen to as well as play.
That’s Five Mile Mountain Road to a T. They play a highly entertaining style that is as raucous as it is authentic. For the purist, think Charlie Poole and Clark Kessinger, but with a touch of early country and western swing thrown in for good measure.
Decked out in bibs and work boots, these boys throw down with the best of ‘em, led by Billy Hurt’s fiery fiddle and Seth Boyd’s five string banjo. Billy has made a study of Kessinger’s work, enhanced by spending time with the old master when Hurt was just a boy. Seth contributes both 3 finger and clawhammer banjo as the situation may dictate, giving the group a wide range of old time sounds. He comes from a long line of noted Franklin County entertainers, and both he and Billy hail from this region of Virginia, legendary for producing acoustic musicians and untaxed whiskey.
Singer-songwriter Steven Dowdy, Bass player with the band, comes from a long line of talented musicians, and has been playing and singing with his family, The Bluegrass Brothers, since he was old enough to hold an instrument. Brennen Ernst picked up his multi-instrumental skills being raised in northern Virginia, with musical guidance from Tom Mindte.
Billy and Brennan met playing together with The Karl Shiflett and Big Country Show, and were both living in Franklin County when they starting doing shows with Steven, picking up local, in-between gigs. When they met Seth, everything clicked, and it was clear that these four made a perfect match. Almost immediately they were in demand for dances and shows, with audiences spellbound by the distinctive style that emerged from their diverse influences. Five Mile Mountain Road plays a brand of mountain music that drives the feet while it inspires the soul.
The opening track here is a perfect example, in the song that named the band, the title track, Five Mile Mountain Road. Written by fellow Franklin County native, J.C. Radford, it tells the tale of the well-travelled, wandering passage connecting Callaway to Floyd, Virginia.
That’s followed with Rocky Pallet, a band favorite, in the Skillet Lickers tradition. McLeods Reel calls to mind an old dance hall setting with Brennan’s piano accompaniment. Known these days as a banjo and guitar specialist, Ernst was a piano prodigy as a youngster, giving a careful study to ragtime and jazz. Dixie, a popular piece at their live shows, is usually their closing number, and is included as an homage to family members who fought for the Confederacy.
Corrina Rose Logston joins the group for some twin fiddling on Lily Dale, their take on the Billy Jack Wills classic recording. Billy Hurt shows off his mastery of the original western swing style, with Brennan Ernst adding just the right touch on guitar.
Hurt shows his chops as well on Durangs Hornpipe, inspired by Clark Kessinger’s version of this popular fiddle tune. Polka fans get their due with Under The Double Eagle, Billy’s arrangement of this marching band classic.
The guys normally perform Milwaukee Blues (Seth on vocal) more like the original Charlie Poole recording, but in a spontaneous inspiration in the studio, decided to add piano for a swing flavor. Shaky finds Boyd out front again on an original clawhammer banjo tune written for his wife, Becky, at the beginning of their time together. He says that the title “describes how we felt when we first danced together, and how we continue to be in love to this day.”
If you know Billy Hurt, you understand why this next track is included. Around here he’s been known to say, “I’ll be in your band if you let me play Billy In The Lowground.” You’ll also hear Brennan applying some Gene Meade guitar runs.
Stanley Brothers standard, Next Sunday Darlin’ Is My Birthday, which has become a. FIVE MILE MOUNTAIN ROAD favorite, and Wildflower Waltz, a gem of an old country waltz, comes from the Kessinger Brothers.
Sugar Hill is a core song of the Carroll / Grayson County tradition. Steve learned it from his dad, Victor Dowdy. “Around here you hear it all the time, but not so much outside of this area.” It includes one of the most descriptive lyrics ever: “If you want to get your eyes knocked out, if you want to get a thrill. If you want to get your eyes knocked out, come down on Sugar Hill.”
From the Tin Pan Alley era comes Alabama Jubilee, a highly requested number for the band featuring Steve’s virtuosic bass skills. It’s a great barn burner to wrap up the album.
All the members of Five Mile Mountain Road are versatile performers, singers, and songwriters, and together they have created something unique and special. See if you don’t agree.
--------------------------------- John Lawless, online editor Bluegrass Today