This album from Appalachian whizzkids Furnace Mountain has been kicking around for several months now and the only excuse we have for not reviewing it earlier is that it’s been in the automobile CD changer almost since arrival and has lightened many trips. Now rescued from the buggy we can confidently say that it sounds as good when stationary and sipping a fine brew.
The follow up to their 2009 album Fields of Fescue which was universally praised The Road To Berryville captures the band (David Deventer, fiddle, Aimee Curl, bass and vocals, Morgan Morrison, bouzouki, guitar and vocals and Danny Knicely, mandolin and fiddle) playing live in the studio and was funded via Kickstarter. Playing to a small audience the band stretch out on several of the songs here allowing them to demonstrate their undoubted instrumental prowess while the choice of songs and instrumentals, traditional and contemporary is top notch. Deventer and Knicely excel on fiddle and mandolin and at times the soloing and ensemble playing is intense and best heard here on the awesome Millwood Boyce. The live setting allows the numbers to flow from one to another and is particularly apt as at times their sound flows like mountain streams while the husky voice of Curl and the harmonies recall that high lonesome sound.
Barney opens the album and immediately the feet are tapping as this up-tempo murder ballad with Curl and Morrison trading verses while mandolin and fiddle dart about nails their trademark sound, old time Carter family type homilies zapped into the modern age. Fol De Rol takes W. B. Yeats by the collar and yanks him to Virginia with some intricate vocal interplay. The following medley of Virginia Girls/Sandy Boys marries their mountain vocals and fiddling with an instrumental coda which perhaps demonstrates one of the reasons why they were such a big hit at Celtic Connections two years ago as it sounds like a miniature fiddlers rally. The medley idea is repeated several times throughout the album as a song is coupled with an instrumental , at times fast and furious (The Nightshift Lullaby/Kookybird), elsewhere more contemplative and measured (The Crow On The Cradle/The Road To Berryville).
Of the more contemporary songs Thrown By The Bull (by Old Man Ludecke) is simply superb sounding as if the band are in the room with you as Curl’s wearied vocal gets close and intimate and the mandolin, fiddle and guitar build a delicate web around it. Who Could Blame Them (by Nathan Moore) is a tremendous heart tug of a song with stark instrumental scaffolding. The band also zip through a sprightly cover of Dylan’s I Want You which almost captures the ebullience of the original and a fine swing time version of Bonaparte’s Retreat.
The live studio setting is a neat idea as it allows the band to capture their show in hi fidelity sound and show off their chops. A stunning outfit the fiddle and mandolin breaks are a delight while the vocals and song choice are the icing on the cake. Very much recommended if string band music excites your listening buds.