Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers fire off some of their finest work to date in their stunning new album For the Record, which is due out this April everywhere independent music is sold and streamed. Mullins, joined by fiddler Jason Barie, Mike Terry on mandolin and vocals, Duane Sparks on vocals and guitar, and Randy Barnes on the upright bass and vocals, fuses old school wit and wisdom with a contemporary approach to the soundboard in this latest effort, and the results are nothing less than extraordinary. Featuring stirring numbers like “That Old Wheel,” the powerful “A Folded Flag,” “Acres of Diamonds” and star single “The Guitar Song” (featuring none other than Del McCoury on guitar), this is one LP you won’t want to miss out on right now.
For the Record features a master mix that was meticulously designed to give every element in these tracks the VIP treatment in the grander scheme of things, and as a result, in songs like “O-hio” and “Here and Now,” we get to experience the full scope of the Radio Ramblers’ immense sonic depth in all of its unclouded glory. There’s nothing coming between us and the moving string arrangements in “Tell Me True” and “Acres of Diamonds” nor the impenetrable melodic harmonies in “The Guitar Song” and “Things That I Like.” This record engages us on multiple levels, with the instrumental fabric of each composition presenting us with the lion’s share of artistic substance. It’s a shame that more of Joe Mullins’ peers don’t share his keen attention to detail, but then again, I think that’s exactly why his brand of bluegrass stands out in a crowd as much as it does.
Nothing beats the melodies that the ballad “I Want to Know More About My Lord” and subtle “Dreamers Hill” contain, and I think you could make the case that both of these songs boast instrumental strengths that are just as evocative as any of the lyrics are in the whole of For the Record. There’s never any question as to whether or not Mullins is being genuine with us in this material and imparting a deeper emotional narrative that isn’t always plainly stated in the poetry found in each track, and despite the surreal structure of the album, the songs cohesively bind together as one piece of music breathtakingly. The Radio Ramblers are at the top of their game here, and even the most discriminating of music critics among us will have a hard time disagreeing with me.
Diehard bluegrass fans would do well to pick up a copy of For the Record this spring, as it not only presents listeners with a unique window into the artistry that one of the genre’s premier groups bring with them every time they enter the studio, but it segues their sound into the future without abandoning any of the stylish hallmarks that got them this far. Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers require no introduction in their scene, and an album like this has the potential to bring their incredible work a lot more exposure with audiophiles who wouldn’t normally be inclined to listen to this style of music. Put simply, For the Record is an unquestionably spirited affair that is more than deserving of your attention.