Bluegrass themes are universal and it's interesting to hear the influences of other parts of the world reflected in new bluegrass tunes. From the Pacific Northwest comes One More Mile from Sockeye, featuring some excellent original material, imaginative arrangements and fine picking talent. Guitar player and lead singer Robert Bulkey has contributed five songs here. If you're interested in hearing a good example of the traditional themes of bluegrass music applied 3000 miles west of Blue Ridge, check out Chester County. Left-coasters can express the themes of heart and home as eloquently as our friends from "down in the holler."
Sockeye demonstrates an wide range of musical taste, with varying degrees of success. The highlights of the recording are the new tunes from Bulkey, and strong, bluesy vocals from bass player Paula Waters on Texas Blues and Sweet Dreams. The instrumental work is solid throughout, but the vocals suffer a bit in spots. There are some shaky harmonies and a few questionable notes. Bulkey's lead singing is a bit "shouty" in spots. He's not the only lead singer like this in the business, so maybe it's a style, rather than a problem. Either way, I don't find it all that appealing. He's much stronger on more relaxed tunes like the lovely ballad Hold You All The Way Home. Dale Williams' banjo drives a nice version of Clinch Mountain Backstep while Bulkey and mandolin player Jack Hansen contribute a nice instrumental interplay on the Dawg-inspired Icthyology. There's even a reworked version of the old rock-'n'-roll classic Chains.
For all the diversity here, Sockeye is still primarily a bluegrass band, and that leads one to wonder about the wisdom of including the rambling and unfocused Sky Sleeping, an instrumental from Hansen featuring a guest appearance by Peter Ostroushko. It's nice to have well-known guests make a contribution, but his skills are largely wasted on six minutes of New-Age wandering.
One More Mile points out the pitfalls of self-produced recordings. They can sometimes be good but often aren't. Recording is stressful, and there's just no substitute for having an unbiased ear listening to the music as it's produced. Bands need to have that outside producer to tell them whether the listener is hearing what they meant to convey, to coax the absolute best performances out of them, and to be the stickler when they have to try just one more take.
There are positive things here, and Sockeye has the potential to be more than they demonstrate on this effort. There are good tunes and good picking on One More Mile. I think they just tried to do too many things in one shot. Let's see what they come up with next time.