Alan Barnosky’s sophomore EP ‘Lonesome Road’ sees the Michigan-born musician switch from a mainly single guitar and voice format in his debut album ‘Old Freight’ to a full-blown bluegrass album complete with a multi-member backing band. But there will likely be few complaints about the end result either way.
That’s because in ‘Lonesome Road’ Barnosky has produced a sharp-sounding, smoothly crafted, collection of six songs with a traditional format and inspired by an equally classic series of bluegrass subjects. Lost loves, the open road, landscapes, wandering (and, unsurprisingly given the title, lonesome) spirits – they’re all there, as well as an interesting take on lengthy spells of travelling, and how it can be both isolating but also a great healer.
As one of the song titles, ‘Beer Cans and Quarters’ suggests, Barnosky delves into these subjects without getting overly high-falutin’, using appealingly down-to-earth imagery and situations. Personal experience also has a major input: the instrumental ‘Sawtooth Ridge’, for example, was inspired by a series of jagged Appalachian skylines near his home in North Carolina, whilst the title track, ‘Lonesome Road’ was born out of Barnosky’s two months of solo travels by bike in the Blue Ridge mountains.
There’s no escaping the virtuosity of Barnosky and his backing band and ‘Sawtooth Ridge’, the instrumental track, is a great opportunity to appreciate that. But in addition, the musicians’ collective lightness of touch and their remarkable cohesiveness, each solo blending smoothly into the next, means that the album never tips into pointless individualistic showiness – as can happen in bluegrass.
Barnosky’s singing is competent rather than impassioned or risk-taking, so the lyrics – more than worth a second or third listen in themselves – don’t perhaps enjoy as much emphasis as they deserve. But that slightly lowkey singing style does fold more neatly into the compact, well-balanced style of classic bluegrass of ‘Lonesome Road’ where all the musicians get a chance to shine. And it’s all delivered at a fast, fluid pace that makes this EP frustratingly brief but pleasurably addictive listening.