Lonesome River Band
The Lonesome River Band is a prime example of persistence paying off. The group organized in 1982 and had a self-released recording in 1985. They signed with Rebel the following year and scored with their self-titled debut recording for the label (Reb-1645). The album featured a variety of material that ranged from country songs (“Got Leavin’ on Her Mind”), an a cappella gospel quartet (“Christ is the Way”), and an instrumental (“Big Mon”), to a bluegrass cover of a pop song (Jonathan Edwards’ “Hello”), and a few bluegrass gems that had not been overworked. The band was praised for “figuring out the formula for success in contemporary bluegrass: solid picking, good lead and harmony singing, well-constructed arrangements, carefully chosen material and a lot of hard work.” Band members on the recording included guitarist and co-founder Tim Austin, banjoist Brian Fesler, mandolin player Jeff Midkiff, and bassist Jerry McMillan. Dobro legend Mike Auldridge added some tasty steel guitar licks to two of the tracks.
With the exception of Adam Steffey replacing Jeff Midkiff, the band remained the same for the group’s next outing, 1988’s Saturday Night / Sunday Morning (Reb-1660). As the title implies, the material is divided equally between bluegrass and gospel music. A highlight record review praised Steffey for his “flawless authority,” especially on the mandolin tour-de-force “Daybreak in Dixie.” Also noteworthy was the LRB’s artful juxtaposition of old styles of bluegrass and new. Traditional chestnuts, like the Carter Family’s “Lover’s Lane,” Carl Story’s “Light at the River,” and the more recent “Kentucky Girl” (a la Larry Sparks) were right at home when paired with newer compositions such as “Close the Door Lightly When You Go,” “It Won’t Be Like Cheating,” and “Lost and Lonesome For You.” Nashville-based musician Steve Thomas provided excellent fiddle work to a number of the songs.
In 1989, the Lonesome River Band released their third album for Rebel, Looking For Yourself (Reb-1680). This album introduced one of the most visible bluegrass artists of the 1990s and 2000s, Dan Tyminski. He came to fame with the Lonesome River Band and achieved even greater success as a member of Alison Krauss’ Union Station as well as being the singing voice of George Clooney in the movie O Brother! Where Art Thou? Another new addition to the band that was noted with this release was banjoist Dale Perry. Guest fiddler Stuart Duncan, who was on loan from the Nashville Bluegrass Band, further enhanced the proceedings. As with previous releases, recent originals – such as “If I Could Only Have Your Love,” “Amanda Linsong,” and the album’s title track – worked nicely with songs by Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, and Cliff Waldron.
Nearly a decade after their formation, the Lonesome River Band hit pay dirt with the 1991 release of Carrying the Tradition (Reb-1690). Now with two stellar vocalists in the group, Dan Tyminski and Ronnie Bowman, the band was a vocal powerhouse. Added to Tyminski’s fine mandolin playing was some stellar banjo work from new member Sammy Shelor and pulsating rhythms from bassist Bowman. Adding icing to cake were a host of fiddlers including Alison Krauss, Bobby Hicks, and Steve Thomas as well as some choice notes from dobroist Kim Gardner. The “crackling, contemporary sound” was used to great effect throughout. Standouts included “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do,” “Hobo Blues,” “Sitting on Top of the World,” and “The Game is Over.” Significantly, the album received the International Bluegrass Music Association award for Album of the Year!