Album Review: Barry Abernathy - Barry Abernathy & Friends

When you’ve got a guest list of singers and musicians like Sam Bush, Dan Tyminski, Doyle Lawson, Rob Ickes, Ron Stewart, Rhonda Vincent, Steve Gulley and Vince Glll, your record is bound to be good. And that’s exactly the case with this fantastic record released by Billy Blue Records.

Known throughout the Bluegrass world from his time in both Mountain Heart and Appalachian Road Show (Not to mention time spent with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and Russell Moore & 111rd Tyme Out), expert banjoist Barry Abernathy crafted the majority of what makes up this, his solo album debut, during a time of tumult and fear of losing his voice when a life-saving neck surgery was on the docket. Fearing that his children would grow up without hearing what their father sounded like as a singer, Barry worked with his friend and frequent collaborator Jim VanCleve to craft Barry Abernathy & Friends, a four year labor of love that shows throughout each and every one of these eleven tracks. Featuring a who’s who in roots music, Barry Abernathy & Friends is a record that goes down smooth, like the best bottle of Bourbon brought out for special occasions.

The lead single from the project, “Birmingham Jail,” is a classic folk song made famous by Lead Belly and in Barry’s hands is a bluegrass delight and the perfect lead single to the album. Vince Gill and Barry sound great together and they appear together later on the album on the equally spirited “Short Life Of Trouble,” a classic Stanley Brothers song.The late, great Steve Gulley (who formed Mountain Heart with Jim VanCleve and Barry) is the most-frequent guest vocalist on this record and what a pairing they are on “Back in ’29” and “One Leg At A Time,” both written by Malcolm Holcombe, a brilliant folk songwriter and artist. These two are joined by “Midnight & Lonesome” and “Lost John.”

Blue Highway’s Shawn Lane shows up and is fantastic during his duets with Barry Abernathy) while Dan Tyminski guests on “Unwanted Love,” a song that flat out cooks. Doyle Lawson and Josh Swift appear on “They Tell Me” while Rhona Vincent’s appearance on the melancholic “You’ll Never Again Be Mine” works as one of the few “down” moments on the record but still serves as a standout (perhaps for THAT reason). Overall, there are few bluegrass records that feel as immediate and “welcoming” as Barry Abernathy & Friends. The band playing is invitingly tight and features co-producer Jim VanCleve, Byron Sutton, Ron Stewart, Jason Moore and Rob Ickes and they’re equally as important to Barry Abernathy & Friends’s success as the vocalists who sing with Barry on the record. It truly is Barry Abernathy and his friends making music, a music that is the perfect “gateway” into what Bluegrass music is about.

The Tracks & The Friends

01. Birmingham Jail - Vince Gill
02. Back In '29 - Steve Gulley
03. One Leg at a Time - Steve Gulley
04. A Train Robbery - Shawn Lane
05. Never Again Be Mine - Rhonda Vincent
06. Fall On the Rock - Shawn Lane
07. Short Life of Trouble - Vince Gill
08. Midnight and Lonesome - Steve Gulley
09. Unwanted Love - Dan Tyminski
10. They Tell Me - Doyle Lawson/Josh Swift
11. Lost John - Steve Gulley

Produced by Barry Abernathy and Jim Van Cleve
Tracked at Oak Tree Studio Hendersonville, TN. Tracking Engineer, David Hall
Additional tracking Third Dawn Studios, Gallatin, TN. Engineer, Jim Van Cleve

The Band
Barry Abernathy, Lead Vocals
Sam Bush, Mandolin
Doyle Lawson, Mandolin
Bryan Sutton, Guitars, Claw Hammer Banjo
Jim Van Cleve, Fiddles / Harmony Vocals
Ron Stewart, Banjo
Jason Moore, Upright Bass
Rob Ickes, Resonator Guitars