Review: Doyle Lawson – More Behind the Picture Than the Wall

DOYLE LAWSON & QUICKSILVER – More Behind The Picture Than The Wall
Rounder Records

It’s got to be frustrating for Doyle Lawson to experience so many personnel changes in his band, Quicksilver. However, the Tennessean always rises to the challenges posed to maintain a road-seasoned professional touring bluegrass ensemble. The band won IBMA’s Vocal Group of the Year Award for six consecutive years (2001-2006), and Doyle’s artistic excellence was honored in 2006 with a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. Releasing many gospel and secular albums since the band initially formed in 1979, Lawson’s latest effort falls in the latter category.

Besides singing lead and harmony vocals, Lawson plays mandolin, guitar and dojo on this project. Quicksilver is Jamie Dailey (guitar, vocals), Darren Beachley (bass, vocals), Terry Baucom (banjo), and Mike Hartgrove (fiddle). Jimmy Edmonds plays bass and some understated fiddle on “Whatever Happened To Us” (that some may recall was done years ago by George Jones and Tammy Wynette). Instrumentally, each song on this album has been given its own unique string treatment. Offering a varied set of both driving bluegrass and acoustic country selections, you’ll hear a rawboned arrangement of just two guitars and two vocalists on “Can You Hear Me Now.” Perhaps it was a subconscious voice that led them to such a lean treatment for the haunting song (written by Dixie & Tom T. Hall with Johnny Williams). I don’t think an additional full-length “Retro 1938” rendition was needed right afterwards to recreate the scratchy sound of an old 78rpm record. Sound and recording quality have come a long way during the last century, and a little snippet of that effect creates a nice mood but why overdo it? The album’s only instrumental, a fiery “Tulsa Turn-A-Round,” was written by Lawson.

Of the twelve tracks, only half include Terry Baucom’s tasteful and formidable banjo playing. I remember the old days when Doyle’s secular albums were all bluegrass, but a recent approach for many bands is to also present slower country songs (written by the likes of Harley & Aaron Allen, Leon Payne, Buddy Cannon/Bill Anderson/Don Miller, Donny Kees, and the Halls) that create an entirely different feeling.

A couple songs have been previously released by George Jones. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, especially if you’re targeting an audience that likes both kinds of music. Rounder Records’ desire to cross-market, and the band’s desire to maximize airplay and sales are probably some reasons.

The two songs featuring Lawson’s lead vocals, “The Phone Call” and “More Behind The Picture Than the Wall” minimize the instrumental accompaniment and maximize spine-tingling choruses with Beachley’s tenor and Dailey’s high baritone. “Ocean of Teardrops” is a fine hard-driving song in the key of B that features Beachley’s lead with two harmonies below. Written by Ron Spears, it captures a classic bluegrass theme in a new contemporary setting.

Other songs (Mississippi River Let Your Water Flow, Just Loving You) have arrangements that call for Beachley and Dailey to switch lead vocalizing. The former song, while more uptempo, recalls a folk/gospel number (Mighty Mississippi) from the old original Quicksilver sound of the early 1980s.  On this current project, three songs were written by Dailey and Lawson, who have collaborated on about 34 numbers together during the past eight years.

Dailey has an exquisite voice and soaring range that equally delivers the goods on a slower ballad (e.g. The Selfishness in Man), a moderate lonesome ¾-time piece (e.g. When the Blues are Movin’ In), and a fast burner (e.g. Sadie’s Got Her New Dress On). This is a real testament to the young man who plans to leave Doyle’s band at the end of 2007 to form his own group. If that’s not somewhat of a blow to Doyle Lawson, then I’m sure he was also disappointed when Baucom and Hartgrove announced they’re also moving on to other endeavors. Replacements (Chris Warner, Alan Johnson) have already been found for them. Replacing Dailey will be more problematic, but I’m sure that singers are already in training to fill his shoes. Lawson will continue rolling with the punches, get on with life, and keep on producing some of the finest bluegrass and gospel music available today. (Joe Ross)

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