“Well Virginia’s for lovers, and lord knows you’ve had a-plenty / But you weren’t supposed to love them while you was a-lovin’ me” declares a confident but battered lead vocal in “Raining in Roanoke,” the tone of the lyrics skewing that of the singing with an emotionality the audience can’t help but embrace. In songs like this one and the other eleven that join it in the new album Take Me Back, Carolina Blue aren’t beating around the bush with statements sonic, linguistic or otherwise – they’re getting to the guts of the groove and giving up one of their best performances to date.
The strings in Take Me Back tell us a story all their own in the case of songs such as “I’m Gonna Wait on Jesus,” “Country Lovin’ Son of a Gun,” “Take Me to the Mountains” and “March Around Jericho,” and as powerful as the lyrics are in each of these tracks, they wouldn’t be nearly as affective were they not coupled with this sterling quality of play. None of these players rest on conventions when constructing an original mood in this record; they’re equal contributors driven by a desire to preserve and experiment, with the boundary between the two graying more often than not.
“Ballad of Mary Ann,” “Lost and Lonely” and “Grown Cold” have some of the best instrumental spacing of any material on the LP, but in all actuality, none of the songs in this tracklist overshadow the any others with regards to producing a really tight arrangement when we need it most. Both up-tempo jams like “Too Wet to Plow” and a slower tune like “Blue Grass” are bruising because of the way they’ve been stylized in the moment (via execution) and not because of some bloated post-recording finish, which is frequently what happens with country music made in 2020.
“Black Knob Breakdown” and “Number 73987” prove that moderation is the key to success within the bluegrass genre beyond a reasonable doubt, and if their conservative framing were to become a trend among the rivals Carolina Blue has in the underground at the moment, I wouldn’t mind at all. I’m as big a fan of an atmospheric, surreal harmony as the next critic, but if you’ve got something that feel as brooding when cut in a lean and mean fashion as this group’s sound is, it’s best to keep the fireworks to a minimum as they did in this instance.
Poetically enrapturing and instrumentally solid from every angle, I think that Carolina Blue have really outdone themselves with Take Me Back. This is a bar-raising release for the band as they look to continue their professional campaign into this next decade in history, but I don’t think their next goal should reside in making a fourth studio album sooner than later. The stage is hungry for their return, and in due time, I hope to hear them playing this complete set in a live capacity – whether on an LP or in a venue near me.