Junior Sisk Kicks off the Fall Season of the Bluegrass Legends Series | Bleader

Junior Sisk Kicks off the Fall Season of the Bluegrass Legends Series


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Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
  • Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice
The venerable and utterly reliable Bluegrass Legends concert series at the American Legion Hall in Evanston starts its fall season this Friday night with a performance by one of the finest young acts on the scene today, the Virginia combo Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice. The remainder of the season ain't too bad either, with shows from Newfound Road, Don Rigsby, and the fabulous singer James King.

Sisk has been involved in bluegrass for two decades now; he started out contributing songs to the Lonesome River Band and led a short-lived combo called Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz before starting Rambler's Choice in the late 90s. I have a copy of that band's 1998 debut, and though I haven't listened to it in years, the two albums Sisk has cut since 2008 with a reunited version of the group have persuaded me to reinvestigate it. Sisk is neither an innovator nor a nostalgic throwback but something in between, and his solidly middle-of-the-road classic bluegrass displays a serious devotion to the fundamentals. He's a wonderful singer and guitarist and an even better bandleader. He's surrounded himself with a terrific assortment of pickers and vocalists and he's shown good instincts in choosing the group's repertoire, sticking primarily with recent material. Sisk himself wrote only one of the dozen tracks on his terrific new Heartaches and Dreams (Rebel).

Most of the songs on the album are closer to old-school country than old-timey mountain music, and Sisk seems to prefer tunes with sharp but straightforward lyrics. The opener, "Train Without a Track," written by the great Tom T. Hall, employs an unmissable plain-language metaphor for a nonstarting love. The propulsive "Working Hard Ain't Hardly Working Anymore" uses some not-so clever wordplay to express the narrator's frustration with his investment in an unsatisfying relationship. Rambler's Choice is stocked with incredible players who do plenty of improvising, but they favor concise solos built on solid melodic foundations rather than high-flying flash. Heartaches and Dreams is as good as any bluegrass recording I've heard all year.

photo: Richard Boyd

Today's playlist:

Dave Stapleton Quintet, The House Always Wins (Edition)
Omar Souleyman, Dabke 2020: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (Sublime Frequencies)
Tomas Fujiwara & Taylor Ho Bynum, Stepwise (Not Two)
Jacob Anderskov, Agnostic Revelations (ILK)
Kings Go Forth, The Outsiders Are Back (Luaka Bop)


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