Del McCoury and his boys have risen to the top of bluegrass music by championing and epitomizing a traditional approach that makes the best use of their talents. Their sound is built around Del McCoury’s instantly identifiable and uniquely backwoods-flavored vocal twang. Combined with the instrumental prowess of his sons Ronnie on mandolin and Robbie on banjo, fiddle wunderkind Jason Carter, and standup bass master Mike Bubb, Del’s band has garnered more awards and a larger fan base than any other bluegrass band in history. Unlike even the great Bill Monroe, Del McCoury’s band actually makes enough money to live comfortably playing bluegrass year round.
The opening cut of It’s Just the Night, Richard Thompson’s “Dry My Tears and Move On,” amply displays what endears the Del McCoury band to their fans. Kicked off by a catchy banjo intro, the opening chorus features three part harmonies with Del on tenor, Ronnie handling the lead, and Robbie covering the baritone part. On the verse Del switches over to lead.
Like Willie Nelson, Del McCoury’s singing seems deceptively simple, but if you try to duplicate his phrasing you quickly discover its sly complexity. His delivery has a rhythmic precision that mimics the way Bill Monroe played the mandolin. His voice drives the pace by pushing it ever so slightly at the beginning of the line and then dropping back into the groove. His vocal embellishments never diminish the forward motion of a tune.
Ronnie McCoury’s first mandolin solo amply displays his musical style, as well. The younger McCoury uses simple melody lines that reinforce the tune coupled with classic Monroe-style ornamentations such as double stops and tremolo. Fiddler Jason Carter, who takes over the second solo section, delivers the kind of “hot” fiddle licks that Monroe fiddling greats Chubby Wise and Kenny Baker made famous.
Finally, Robbie McCoury finishes the instrumental section with the same signature lick that began the song. Throughout these solos, the tune’s forward motion and pace are never compromised. Great bluegrass is all about continuous forward motion.
Speaking of forward motion, sharp-eyed consumers will notice this latest release is on McCoury’s own label, distributed by Sugar Hill, rather than Ricky Skaggs’s Ceili Music the company that released McCoury’s last two CDs. Taking a page out of Skaggs’ own playbook, Del and Ronnie McCoury decided to finance and produce this release themselves, then shop it around for the best deal. Welk Music’s Sugar Hill division came up with the winning numbers. Since Ronnie and Del had handled production duties on their last Ceili release Del and The Boys, It’s Just the Night has an uncanny sonic similarity to their last release. The sound is clean but warm, detailed yet comfortable.
Judging by its quality and Del McCoury’s tremendous popularity I can confidently predict that It’s Just the Night will rapidly ascend to the top of the bluegrass sales charts.
It’s Just the Night delivers exactly what you’ve come to expect from Del McCoury and his boys – first class blue-ribbon bluegrass music.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.