Heading toward its 40th anniversary, the award-winning Lonesome River Band can look back at a career filled with hits that have become as firmly entrenched in the bluegrass parking lot pickers’ songbook as any first generation classic. And though its founding members have long since gone on to other ventures, the band’s quintessential musical hallmarks — hard-grooving rhythm, sparkling banjo, distinctive leads and smooth, yet muscular harmonies — have not just survived but matured, and always in service of the song.
With “That’s Life,” the first new follow-up to 2019’s Outside Looking In, the quintet returns with a song that fits not only this tumultuous moment, but any time that we pause to consider the ups and downs of our personal journeys. Cast as a look back at the narrator’s path to lasting love and family, the song unreels in almost cinematic terms, as he endures heartbreak on the way to finding “the woman God had in mind when he made me” and then to fulfillment as a new parent.
“I wrote this song years ago with my friend Billy Droze,” says lead singer Brandon Rickman. “I wanted it to be an authentic telling of losing and finding love. There is a lot of my own story in there, but it’s also a story I hope folks can relate to as a realistic one about the struggles that we all go through. Many of us experience a long road to love, with many ups, downs, twists and turns — but as we all know, that’s life.”
Like so many of the Lonesome River Band’s most memorable songs, “That’s Life” foregoes blistering tempo for a relaxed, yet unstoppable groove that lets the melody breathe and draws attention to the words and story. Still, there’s plenty of room for the quiet virtuosity that’s another of the band’s signature elements, and whether it’s Sammy Shelor’s rippling banjo rolls, the sympathetic fiddling of Mike Hartgrove, the steady pocket of the rhythm section — Rickman on guitar, mandolinist Jesse Smathers and bass player Barry Reed — or the polished harmonies from Rickman, Shelor and Smathers, the band works together so tightly that it’s almost as if they’d been playing together for all those forty years.
From start to finish, “That’s Life” is a distillation of the Lonesome River Band’s enduring appeal — strong, rooted in tradition, yet fresh and dynamic — telling the world that, while forty years have already passed, the best of the Lonesome River Band may still lie ahead.