Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, February 2005. Used with permission.

Highlight Review

Josh Williams

Lonesome Highway

Pinecastle PRC 1136

With Lonesome Highway, Josh Williams stakes his claim to a well-deserved place on the short list of exceptional new talents in bluegrass music. He’s not really all that new, having spent a number of years with the Chicago-based Special Consensus and currently holding down the highly visible position as guitar player for Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, but he’s still young enough to be new to many and he brings a refreshing take on the music. On this, his second solo recording, he clearly has established his own vision.

Lonesome Highway is a special bluegrass album. With players like JD Crowe, Ron Stewart, Missy Raines and Randy Kohrs, among others, it couldn’t help but sound great. But it’s not a showcase for hot licks, although there are plenty of those. Williams never let licks get in the way of great music. With a strong selection of well-crafted songs, new and old, Lonesome Highway is all about the way the bluegrass music ought to be done. Vocals are front and center, balanced with tasty solos, thoughtful arrangements and driven by a powerhouse rhythm section.

The song selection is worthy of special mention. Williams contributed two songs of his own, and also includes songs from writers like Tom T. and Dixie Hall (Killer on the Loose, a killer of a tune) and Becky Buller (You Love Me Today), among others. On Ron Stewart’s Will You Meet Me Over There, Williams even adds some tasteful Scruggs-style finger-picking on the guitar. Only The Legend of the Johnson Boys and Cold Virginia Rain could be characterized as particularly familiar. And there are literary surprises, too. Both The Cave and Mordecai provide unexpected twists on what might otherwise be traditional bluegrass storylines.

This is a recording that bears up under repeated listening — it’s in pretty much permanent rotation in my CD player. Josh Williams has put together a great recording that holds more promise for the future. If Lonesome Highway is an indication of the talent coming to the fore of bluegrass these days, the future of the music is in safe hands.

Pinecastle Records, PO Box 456, Orlando, FL 32803

Archie Warnock, [email]

Archie's BU Review Page