Nu-Blu Album Preachy But Solid Bluegrass

Nail by Nail
Pine Castle Holdings 1181
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At a recent conference I attended a session on marketing and music. In a chat with one of the presenters I said that I had just gotten a CD that purported to be a “Christian bluegrass” album. He laughed and queried, “Aren’t all bluegrass albums Christian?” He wasn’t serious, but it’s certainly true that mountain gospel has long been a staple for bluegrass vocalists. So how is Nail by Nail different from any other bluegrass record? Let’s start with what isn’t different. The North Carolina-based ensemble Nu-Blu features all the expected instrumentation: guitar (Daniel Routh), bass (Daniel’s wife Carolyn), banjo (Levi Austin), mandolin (Austin Koerner), and fiddle (Greg Luck). Carolyn Routh handles lead vocals and everyone except Luck jumps in to produce signature three-part harmonies. Songs feature instrumental breakouts, usually a sequence of flat-picked guitar, banjo runs, and fancy mando and fiddle bowing. Occasionally a soulful slap bass punctuates the procession before a quick burst of notes bridges back to the melody and vocals. So far, so standard….

But make no mistake: Nu-Blu also has a preachy side that comes through in the selection of some pretty overt lyrics. (Lest there’s any mistake, notes on the back of the album make it clear that Nu-Blu sees this recording as musical testimony.) This seven-track CD presents Jesus as crucified and savior of humankind. Let your tolerance for preaching guide your decision of whether or not to check out Nu-Blu. A reason why you might wish to do so: this is a very good band. They may lay it on a bit heavy at times, but they are perennial nominees in the category of bluegrass band of the year in a state that knows bluegrass. Some of the testimony is indeed on the heavy side—which is why my favorite track was the cover of Tim Stafford’s more subtle “Where Did You Get that Water?”—but there’s not a thing pushy about the band’s top drawer musicianship. And if you want to know the difference between bluegrass gospel and bluegrass gospel, this one will guide you.—Rob Weir

Click here to hear "Hammer on the Nails."

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