Keep a band together long enough and, no matter how good they are when they start out, their music will mature like a fine wine. It happened with the Johnson Mountain Boys and with the release of Blue Highway's Midnight Storm, we can see it happening again. Now one of the best bands in bluegrass music, they are developing a polish and sound all their own.
Midnight Storm is a top-notch recording from start to finish. There's not a bad cut nor a weak spot anywhere. Blue Highway has come up with twelve strong tunes and brought them off with absolute style. The absolute highlight has to be the mind-blowing, a cappella Some Day. If it doesn't stand the hair up on the back of your neck, have your pulse checked. He Walked All The Way Home is destined to be a bluegrass classic. The emotion in the verses and the powerful chorus guarantee it. Just watch and see if all your local bands don't start playing it.
Both Tim Stafford and Wayne Taylor have strong songwriting credentials, but interestingly, only four of the tunes are band originals. Stafford wrote Find Me Out On A Mountain Top and Whither Thou Go and added the music for Some Day, and Taylor contributed Keen Mountain Prison. But with fine tunes like Jack Tottle'sI'd Rather Be A Lonesome Pine and Pikeville Flood from Jim Mills, the material is as strong as anything Blue Highway has done before.
Individually, each member of the band shines but no one dominates. Stafford is a world-class lead singer, not in the high, lonesome tradition, but he has an amazing ability to wrap his voice around any song and make it distinctively his own. His strong guitar playing and Taylor's driving bass, creates a rhythm pocket that can't be mistaken for anything but hard-core bluegrass. At the same time, the vocals have a smoothness and blend that makes you sit up and take notice the way the Seldom Scene does.
Rob Ickes on dobro and Jason Burleson on banjo are solid, tasteful and play straight to the heart of the melody and rhythm. It's refreshing to hear a bluegrass band so in control of the music that they don't have to pack every break with more notes than the human ear can follow to make the point. At the same time, Shawn Lane just tears up Cold Frosty Morn on fiddle, and his stellar lead and tenor vocals are dead on target.
It doesn't matter - solo vocals, duets, trios and quartets, instrumentals - Blue Highway has it all. This is a shining accomplishment for Blue Highway; a job well done. It has my highest recommendation.