As a founding member of both IIIrd Tyme Out and Doyle Lawson's Quicksilver, and as an occasional touring member of Seldom Scene, mandolinist Lou Reid learned a lot about blending bluegrass tradition with edgier contemporary arrangements. Those lessons are applied with engaging style to the songs on Blue Heartache, Reid's fourth release with his band, Carolina.
The signature element of Lou Reid & Carolina's sound is tightly layered four-part harmonies hopscotching over one another, with sprightly rhythms cleanly picked by Reid, banjoist Gena Britt, guitarist Brian Stephens and acoustic bassist Jeff Deaton (son of IIIrd Tyme Out's Ray Deaton). The ensemble shines on songs such as the Birchfield/Osborne traditional "Take This Hammer" and Paul Craft's swinging title track.
Reid's robust lead vocals soar over his bandmates on Bill Monroe's "Letter From My Darlin' " (RealAudio excerpt) and Glenn Sutton's apropos "Grass Lover" (RealAudio excerpt). "I cut my teeth on Monroe, when I was just knee-high," Reid sings. "When Ralph Stanley sings 'Rank Stranger,' I break right down and cry." Britt's crystal-clear tones, lightly colored by her dusky lower register, shine most poignantly on the bittersweet Jim Rushing/Keith Sewell lament "Memories Don't Die" (RealAudio excerpt).
Though this album breaks no new ground, its performances and song selection are first-rate.