If he keeps on making ‘em, I’m gonna keep on listening. Along with being one of the biggest draws, Junior Sisk has been one of the most productive pickers of the last few years. After his release of ‘Poor Boy’s Pleasure’ last May, Sisk returns with another release of his specific brand of traditional bluegrass. And while I am definitely a fan of this style, it’s hard not to hope for more when it comes to the material, which at this point has almost become painting by numbers. This was evident on ‘Poor Boy’s Pleasure’ which makes ‘The Mountains Are Calling Me Home’ definitely disappointing and borderline unnecessary.
This doesn’t mean the whole project is for naught. Sisk’s version of “You’ll Be a Lost Ball” is a good one, and “What a Way to Go” is possibly my favorite song of the year. But it’s even more formulaic than your run of the mill traditional band. At this point songs like “Shape Up or Ship Out” and “I’m Not Listening Anymore” sound too similar to his past deliveries. It’s impossible not to imagine Sisk realizing this and being either adamantly in support or expressing indifference.
Just like the few songs mentioned above, there are positives to this album that, with Ramblers Choice, cannot be denied. Jason Davis is still the best of the traditional new guard of banjo pickers and the tenor of bassist Kameron Keller is some of the best in the business, but this was assumed whenever one sees Ramblers Choice. I expect more of Sisk and when he releases another project I hope it is not inexcusably rushed and made with the recognition that the same tricks are wearing thin.
Due to my surprising distaste for the album, I felt it necessary to review something else so the readers could hear the best bluegrass coming out. While not for everybody, the true recommendation for this month is Casey Campbell’s ‘Mandolin Duets, Volume One’. It excels in the field where Sisk’s falters: adaptability. Like many duet albums, the players and the styles are constantly changing. On this project we hear everyone from Roland White and Andy Statman to Ronnie McCoury and Buck White, and Campbell is constantly morphing to play with these other musicians. Many know Casey as the nephew of the late Jimmy Cambell. Casey brings an overlying slickness to his playing, but this doesn’t sound conceited or distant. That is exemplified by the Mike Compton featured “Monroebilia” (yes it’s an amazing name). This seemingly generic modal Monroe song is a perfect showing case for Campbell to show what years of being that close to the ancient tones can get you. Like Compton, Casey has the “constant slide” sensation throughout the track which is a stark contrast from the up-down nature of Ronnie McCoury’s “Wailin’ on Waldron” (another awesome name).
Graciousness and respect are other themes of this album. Players not nearly as associated with the top of the mandolin world as they used to be or deserved to be make up a lot of his guests. Buck White and Roland White, along with 2017 Grass Valley’s Bobby Osborne all make appearances. These are admittedly the weaker songs on the album, but it shows what Casey was trying to accomplish. I like to the think of it as the modern rendition of Grisman’s ‘Mandolin Extravaganza’ where the young crowd like myself can now theorize how these mixing of styles and eras could sound. Spoiler alert: it sounds damn fine.