With a happy strut that finds quarter in a couple of different tracks on Hitchhiking to California, “I Want to Be Loved (But Only by You)” invites us closer to its melodic charms with an easy rhythm just about any listener is guaranteed to find endearing this spring. Although it’s hardly the only reason to pick up the new album from Alan Bibey & Grasstowne, the simplicity of a composition like this one – in the hands of such brilliant professionals, mind you – feels like the perfect way to start off any season (and particularly one as refreshing as the present). Bibey has always had a big picture mentality in his music and the players he keeps company with, and here, he reinvigorates the bluegrass community with a sound we need now more than ever.
The strings in this record, starting with Bibey’s own mandolin, extend an emotion in the band’s cover of “Take the Long Way Ho0me,” “Crime at Quiet Dell,” “When He Calls My Name” and the instrumental “Messin’ with Sasquatch” that vocals could never have completely accounted for on their own. Truthfully, this component of the album’s multidimensionality is probably what won my affections over everything else, including the virtuosity of these players, each of whom personify what it means to be dedicated to the bluegrass genre. There’s a willingness here to do anything it takes to impart a real, genuine passion to the audience, and I just can’t say the same for the majority of mainstream offerings I’ve heard in the past year.
A freewheeling vibe can be found most everywhere we look and listen in Hitchhiking to California, starting of course with the LP’s wonderful title track, and I think it generally comes in strong contrast to the insularity of contemporary western music in the past year. Considering the impact of the pandemic on live music and the artists who bring it to life, there’s a surprisingly open-air feel to “I Don’t Know When,” “Lonesomeville,” lead single “Blue Collar Blues” and the bold “Rhythm of the Rails” that doesn’t reflect a quiet confinement so much as it does a wanderlust living deep within us all. It’s a powerful tracklist, not to mention possibly one of the best-timed releases of 2021 thus far, for this very reason.
Alan Bibey offers an in-your-face response to pandemic blues that few others in the game will be able to compete with in Hitchhiking to California, which I’m naming one of my favorite bluegrass releases of the spring. There’s no room for pitiful platitudes and recycled content we’ve already heard a million different times at a million different tempos in this LP; Bibey and Grasstowne have too tight a ship to run for anything but perfection to exist in their sights, and to me, they couldn’t have done a much better job of hitting a homerun with this record. From its title track to “When He Calls My Name,” Hitchhiking to California is every bit the adventure its handle would have us believe it to be.