Published Aug 20, 2019Rounder Records doesn't release as many bluegrass albums as it once did, but when it does, we best pay attention. The Po' Ramblin' Boys have been one of bluegrass music's finest under-heralded bands since their 2016 debut, Back to the Mountains.
Methodical to the edge of frustration, the band have taken time honing a keen approach to traditional bluegrass, infusing it with a large slug of country influence while staying true to the members' East Tennessee and Southern Missouri roots. Their live performance is as impressive as one will encounter on the festival circuit, and with Toil, Tears & Trouble they take the next step in their maturation as bluegrass torchbearers.
The lineup of the group remains with Jereme Brown (vocals, banjo), CJ Lewandowski (vocals, mandolin), Josh Rinkel (vocals, guitar), and Jasper Lorentzen (bass) working together to create a bluegrass sound influence in equal parts by the Stanley Brothers, James King, and the country hit parade of 1962. Sparking Toil, Tears & Trouble is the addition of fiddling queen Laura Orshaw, adding sweet fills and lively support throughout: you have to have a fiddle in the band to represent Bill Monroe's vision.
Toil, Tears & Trouble feels live off-the-floor. One can envision instruments tilting toward a single mic to intensify a fill, and then retreating to leave space for the next vocalist. The album has a natural, handcrafted vibe with an unusually impressive selection of songs from the likes of Slaid Cleaves & Nathan Hamilton ("Hickory, Walnut & Pine"), the Tashians ("Don't Kneel At My Graveside"), and a pair from Jamie O'Hara, including a stellar run-through of George Jones' last timeless track, "Cold Hard Truth."
Missouri is well-represented, with an eerie take of Cedar Hill's chilling "Ice on the Timber" and Jimmy Orchard's timeless "Longing for the Ozarks." Rinkel is a songwriting hoss, and his "Old New Borrowed and Blue" is as aching as a true-life bluegrass song should be.
The Po' Ramblin' Boys, the International Bluegrass Music Association's reigning Emerging Artist of the Year, have released one of 2019's finest roots albums. (Rounder)