Michael & Jennifer McLain – Hit the Road and Go

URL: https://www.banjocats.com/

Husband and wife duos aren’t common in popular music as a whole, let alone Americana or bluegrass, but don’t let that sway you. Hit the Road and Go isn’t a touchy feely collection of a dozen love songs but, instead, a mini-compendium of the genre’s best tunes coupled with some lesser known songs, a couple of instrumentals, and one original track. Its chief distinguishing feature is virtuosity. Given their long history as players and composers, it is no shock they have an astute enough ear to identify other collaborators capable of helping them fulfill their musical vision. Dan Kelly, a superb fiddle player with an impeccable pedigree including stints with everyone from Roy Acuff to Faith Hill, joins them on a number of cuts. The McLains are top notch players themselves, but never self-indulgent. Instead, their facility fills the dozen songs on their debut with melodic excellence and remarkable energy. Vocalist Jennifer McLain handles the lion’s share of vocal duties and her voice does a fantastic and deeply felt job of exploring a variety of emotions and stances throughout this release. The long experience both husband and wife have in the music industry further ensures that this is an immaculately produced outing that presents their overall talents in most compelling fashion possible.

“This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” sends the album shooting off into the atmosphere. There’s, naturally, a great deal of timing and years of playing that goes into making music this challenging sound so effortless, but the McLains have mastered their art. There’s bright, optimistic melodies woven throughout this song and the mix of instruments work in perfect sympathy with one another. “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” is a little closer to traditional country balladry than what you might expect, but it retains enough of the duo’s guiding musical spirit to sound consistent alongside the other tracks. McLain turns in a lovingly wrought vocal on this song. “Jesus, Hold My Hand” is a classic of the genre, performed by innumerable recording artists, but the McLain own this with their unique blend of delicacy and virtuosity. The genuine feeling underlying this song clearly emerges.

There’s a great universality in the song “Up This Hill and Down” that will appeal to a wide audience without ever cheaply coming by its effects. Jennifer McLain’s singing is perfectly tailored for the lyric and she gently embodies the weariness of the lyric. It’s a realistic narrative and well written. The title song is a Johnny Cash penned number that, like the duo’s earlier stab at covering Carl Perkins, contains whiffs of the original spirit while still sounding very much part and parcel of the duo’s creative vision. The added, understated bite the song gains from suggesting some qualities of its author while still displaying all the characteristics common to the duo’s musical sound makes it quite an unique number. “Boom Town” is a thoughtful, singer/songwriter slanted track with strong details and a solid, well-constructed musical arrangement. Hit the Road and Go ends with another traditional spiritual from the gospel tradition, “I’m Ready To Go Home”. It has all of the complicated, but unquestionably sincere joy implied by the title and lyric and ends the album on a decidedly upbeat note. This is a classy, top shelf professional release from two supreme stylists in the genre.

CD BABY: http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/MichaelandJenniferMcLain

9 out of 10 stars

Michael Saulman