Dudley Connell’s distinctive, throaty voice was, for many years, one of the aural hallmarks of the dynamic Johnson Mountain Boys. Don Rigsby’s crystalline tenor provides the hair-raising high harmony for the Lonesome River Band. More recently, the two found themselves in the same band, a bluegrass supergroup called Longview, putatively fronted by vocalist James King. While Longview harnesses the full-bore power of three-part harmony singing, Connell and Rigsby have branched off to craft a CD that strips away the clutter of a big band sound.
It’s a briskly-paced, intimate and beautiful recording — or, to borrow a phrase from the awards shows, a true vocal event. The opening notes of the title cut, a waltz-time prayer of unrequited love from the repertoire of the venerable Carter Family and Stanley Brothers, throw two huge voices at you in a combination made potent by their contrasting timbres. This may be brother-style harmony, but you can tell right away these aren’t brothers.
Connell’s anchoring rhythm guitar and Rigsby’s straight-ahead mandolin breaks are the only accompaniment on many tracks, with Ronnie Simpkins’ bass and Aubrey Haynie’s delectable fiddle touching up several others. The sound most directly echoes that of the fraternal Blue Sky Boys and the Monroe Brothers before bluegrass was born; to wit, Connell and Rigsby revitalize “I’m Troubled, I’m Troubled” from the former and “Good-bye Maggie” from the latter.
The concluding cut, “Old Ship Of Zion”, features Rigsby by himself, and when his voice trails off for the last time, reverberating as if in an old wooden church, it elicits a hearty “amen.”