Whitehouse – Self-Titled
Bluegrass’ newest supergroup — it says so right on the CD — is composed of two Bluegrass Cardinals alumnae turned bandleaders (guitarist David Parmley and mandolin player Larry Stephenson), renowned bassist Missy Raines, Del McCoury Band fiddler Jason Carter, and Charlie Cushman, a banjo player underappreciated in large part because his regular job is playing guitar for Grand Ole Opry member Mike Snider.
Joined by both physical geography (they’re all residents of White House, Tennessee) and musical territory (they share a fondness for several strains of bluegrass that isn’t fully accommodated in their regular outfits), the quintet has come up with a fine selection of songs that, while mostly familiar to aficionados, are far cries from being chestnuts.
On the picking side, the album is just about flawless. It surely ought to get Cushman some richly deserved attention, for his playing reveals not only the rock-solid timing that characterizes the group’s work as a whole, but a distinctive yet tasteful approach shaped by a mastery of Don Reno’s unique style. Vocally, the heart of the group resides in the reunion of Parmley’s melismatic, expressive lead voice with Stephenson’s complementary, supportive tenor — though here, too, Cushman contributes more than serviceably by rounding out the trio.
Among the highlights are “Cedar Grove”, a driving banjo tune; “Rock Bottom”, a sprightly declaration of an intent to drink away trouble by one of bluegrass’s best songwriters, the late Randall Hylton; and the equally defiant “Don’t Hold Your Breath”, a dandy new song by Robert Gately, yet another White House resident. It’s enough to make an aspiring bluegrasser think about moving there.