Bluegrass songs about bluegrass seem to be turning up everywhere these days, but while there are plenty of single songs name-checking the music’s pioneers and all-star collaborative albums honoring generational legacies, a full-length tribute by one working band honoring another working band from days gone by is still a rarity. That makes Singing Up There: A Tribute to the Easter Brothers, the new album from the Lonesome River Band — itself a legendary group heading toward its 40th anniversary — almost necessarily of note, but from the project’s opening notes, the music itself makes the decisive argument that this is one exciting set.
Pioneers in turning the already significant strain of gospel themes in songs performed by first-generation bluegrass artists like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and, especially Reno & Smiley — friends from the group’s earliest days — into an exclusive focus, the Easter Brothers helped to pave a “bluegrass gospel” road that would be traveled by a steady stream of acts who channeled their Christian convictions into a musical world ruled by banjos and fiddles, flat-top guitars and mandolins. For well over a half century, the Brothers were a regular presence in churches, at festivals, on television and radio shows, and made an avalanche of records, while contributing a number of songs to the bluegrass, and especially bluegrass gospel songbooks.
“Growing up in Patrick County, Virginia, I was influenced by a lot of Bluegrass Gospel,” recalls the Lonesome River Band’s award-winning banjo player, harmony vocalist and leader, Sammy Shelor. “One of the strongest groups in that genre was The Easter Brothers, from just down the road in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Their songwriting and harmonies were so strong and inspiring to me in my youth, and it has stayed in my heart all these years. We are so happy to be able to pay tribute to these fine gentlemen and the legacy they have created.”
With years of playing together under their belts, this edition of the LRB — Shelor, fiddler Mike Hartgrove, singers Brandon Rickman (guitar), Jesse Smathers (mandolin) and bassist Barry Reed — echoes the Brothers’ long familiarity with one another as they explore the breadth of the Brothers’ career and catalog. There are Southern Gospel-flavored songs like “Standing On The Banks,” mountain-flavored meditations like the classic “Lord, I’m Just A Branch,” the early favorite, “Every Minute Means A Mile,” the more recent “Little By Little” — this version already a hit single for the LRB — and more, each showing a different facet of the Brothers’ catalog and sound, delivered by musicians for whom this sound and these songs are almost second nature.
“We want to sincerely thank the Easter Brothers for all the years these gentlemen shared the blessing of their music all over the country,” adds Shelor, “and the many miles they traveled to do so. It was truly anointed, and done for the glory of God; you can hear it in the lyrics. Please go back and listen to the original recordings of these great songs — it will be a blessing!”
About Lonesome River Band
Since its formation decades ago, Lonesome River Band continues its reputation as one of the most respected names in Bluegrass music. Five-time International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Banjo Player of the Year, and winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, Sammy Shelor leads the group that is constantly breaking new ground in Acoustic music. With two stellar lead vocalists, Brandon Rickman (guitar) and Jesse Smathers (mandolin), with impressive talents of Mike Hartgrove (fiddle) and Barry Reed (bass), the band seamlessly comes together, performing the trademark sound that fans continue to embrace.