Being part of a successful band can be a mixed blessing. You work regularly and play your music for a large audience, but because it is a band, you can only stray so far from the group’s core sound. Solo albums supply a way for talented musicians to stretch beyond the confines of their band’s focus.
All For Today showcases the scope and talent of Blue Highway’s lead singer and mandolinist Shawn Lane. His arresting voice, solid mandolin playing, and fine musical taste display wide-ranging interests and influences. For those unfamiliar with Shawn Lane, he played with Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder band when they were still a country outfit, worked with Larry Sparks, and then formed Blue Highway in the mid ’90s.
Blue Highway bandmates (guitarist Tim Stafford, dobro player Rob Ickes, and banjo player Tom Adams) join guests Jerry Douglas on dobro, Barry Bales and Jason Moore on bass, Jason Burlson on banjo, and Ronnie Bowman, Larry Sparks, and Garcia Lane on vocals.
Eight Shawn Lane originals join material by A.P. Carter, Carl Jackson, M.H. Malone, and Mark Vissage. While the album is definitely bluegrass, it shows that bluegrass is not limited to one kind of song or one particular orchestration. Highpoints include Shawn’s “When I See Your Face” featuring his wife, Gracia, whose voice is reminiscent of Alison Krauss. “Sawmill Man,” with Larry Sparks on lead vocal, showcases Shawn on guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and tenor vocal. On “When It’s All Said and Done” Shawn’s voice displays a soulful sonority that is arresting and intimate.
Produced by Shawn and engineered by Mark Howard and Tim Roberts, All For Today sounds warm and natural. Nashville’s Signal Path Studio captures the vibrancy of the myriad of acoustic instruments without any antiseptic digital edges. If some old audiophile complains about how new recordings sound slick and soulless, make ’em listen to All For Today. That should change their minds.
According to most music historians, the golden age of bluegrass was in the late 1940s through the ’50s. With artists like Lane, Ronnie Bowman, Larry Sparks, Carl Jackson, Tim O’Brien, and bands like Blue Highway, Lonesome River Band, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Del McCoury and the Boys, Hot Rize, and Open Road producing such compelling music, the last 10 years may prove to be an even more fertile period for Bluegrass. All For Today typifies the new energy and boundless creativity of today’s contemporary bluegrass.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.