Expectations are a double-edged sword. Bands can benefit from the foundation that they build, drawing fans back to shows and selling recordings. But expectations can also set up comparisons that may not be for the best.
Based on their previous recordings, Continental Divide has a reputation for solid, well-crafted bluegrass music, justifiably based on Parmley’s expressive, country-tinged vocals. In particular, On The Divide showed Continental Divide poised on the brink of the top echelon of bluegrass. There’ll Always Be A Rocking Chairisn’t quite the effort that one was. This version of the band – Parmley, Elmer Burchett, Jr., Steve Day, Mike Anglin and Danny Barnes, with special guest Glen Duncan – has the fine picking and tight harmonies that we expect, along with some fine songwriting talent by banjo-player Burchett.
Having said that, the band sets up expectations that they don’t quite meet. Three out of the 12 songs on the CD – Mountain Laurel, I’ve Heard The Wind Blowand Lord, Don’t Give Up On Me – are so strongly associated with the Bluegrass Cardinals that one can’t help but make comparisons. In all three cases, the Cardinals’ version is the definitive one. Certainly, as one of the Cardinals’ original members, Parmley has as much right as anyone to dig into that old material, but the Cardinals were one of the most influential bands to come out of the 1970s and the comparison doesn’t help Continental Divide. They’d have done much better for themselves by staking out newer territory. There’ll Always Be A Rocking Chair is a good recording, but we ought to expect more from the top names in the business.