One of the things I enjoy about this current chapter of my life is coming across new (to me) songwriters, singers and groups. I’ve learned about many such folks recently and the newest one to me is a group called Nu-Blu. Like I said, they’re new to me- they’ve been around since 2003 so seasoned bluegrass/Americana folk may know their entire output.
Nu-Blu is anchored by the husband/wife team of Daniel and Carolyn Routh. Multi-instrumentalist Levi Austin and mandolinist Austin Koerner round out the quartet. The bio on their website mentions influences like Flatt, Scruggs and Martin, as you would expect from any bluegrass band worth their salt from North Carolina, but also modern torchbearer Alison Krauss. It turns out to be a winning combination- particularly if you prefer the influence leaning toward the Krauss side of the ledger. The group has a new project just out called All the Way and it should prove to have a pretty decent shelf life.
The disc contains one instrumental and 9 vocal tracks varying in tempo and texture, but staying predominately on the contemporary edges of bluegrass. The quality is high throughout the work. The vocals are strong, harmonies tight and instrumentals well done. In fact, the things I found to grouse about were strictly personal preferences about technical things. The CD opens up with a solid ‘grasser “That’s What Makes the Bluegrass Blue“. I was listening to this initially without credits and though the harmonies took unexpected turns at first, there was something familiar about the sound. It turned out that the familiar sound was the voice of none other than the Queen of Bluegrass Music, Rhonda Vincent. Her voice, as flavor, adding to Carolyn’s was absolutely perfect for this song.
Each of the songs bear listening, but I will highlight three. The fourth cut (All the Way) is a song written by Carl Jackson and Allison Mellon. After a couple of hearings, the lyrics hit me. What a powerful story of a woman’s life and the long reach of a rebellious act of youth in three snapshots!
Forgiveless (Louisa Branscomb) is a gorgeous thing with the instruments becoming the forgiveless river about which Carolyn is singing. This almost requires headphones in order to be sure to not miss a single note or word.
If you begin with a Rhonda Vincent guest spot, how do you end? How about Sam Moore of R&B’s Sam & Dave fame dropping in to sing a song about Jesus & George Jones? Musically, Carolyn starts with a very strong, soul vocal on the first verse. Sam answers in the same vocal register as only Sam Moore can. Lyrically, contrasting Jesus, the one who was both fully God and fully human with no sin, and George Jones, who was fully human, with plenty of sin on public display, but who found peace in Jesus is a wonderfully written song (Cheri Hefner/Rick Tiger). In the view of the writer/singer, God has sent Jesus for our salvation, but He has also shown His glory in people like George Jones. Flawed? Yes. In need of mercy and grace? Certainly. Just like all of us? Most definitely. Could the grace of God reach Jones? He did. This is one large way God gives the rest of us encouragement and hope.
Here are the lyrics of verse 1 & the chorus.
“One made wine, the other one drank it. One spoke the Gospel, the other one Sang it. One gave salvation the other one needed. One was faithful, the other one cheated.
Amazing Grace and his sweet sound. I was raised and live by it now. From the cross to a field of stone, I thank God for Jesus and Jones.”
You’re going to have to watch the video to get the rest. Watch it HERE.
The album is even and solid from start to finish and I would recommend it to anyone who likes well done music of most any genre. When we look back, this may not be Nu-Blu’s magnum opus. I think they have something even greater coming. I also think, however, that All the Way will be the foundation on which that will be built.