“Heaven is right here, if you’re doing it right.” Those words lead the chorus of Black Grace, a song that won Melody Walker the songwriting contest last year at Merlefest. She and partner Jacob Groopman have just released We Made It Home that includes Black Grace and number of other treasures. Produced by bluegrass virtuoso Laurie Lewis, the record is proof that the whole can be even greater than the sum of the parts.
Vocals are provided by both Walker and Groopman, but Melody’s range and power set her above most of what you hear in Americana today. On the title track, she drives an old-timey sound complete with a couple of yelps that add a little live texture to the studio recording. The aforementioned Black Grace has her affecting a gospel delivery, or at least a spiritual one. Betelgeuse and Billy the Champ show off a little more of a pop folk sound.
Meanwhile Jacob, who can shred just about anything with strings, focuses his effort here on guitar and mandolin. We Made It Home shows off a sweet mandolin part. It’s immediately followed by Retinue, with a brilliant turn on the acoustic guitar. The surprise on the album, though, is how dependent the Paul Simon hit Graceland is on guitar. I remember the song from my younger days for the lyrics, but here it’s obvious the instrumental portion was just as critical.
Finally there’s the part that Lewis played to tease out the pieces that push the record to its heights. Come On Mule, a song by Groopman’s grandfather’s cousin, was one I initially pegged as traditional. It’s just so lifelike, it has to be an example of how a traditional song starts its trajectory. Sweet Sunny South takes Jacob’s experience leaving his home in Virginia and turns it into a mourning ballad of a comfortable life left for the hope and prayer that you’re doing the right thing. The disc ends with Mississippi Moon, a Peter Rowan number. Lewis has managed to capture the wonderful presence the duo can add to just about any song, but somehow maintain the essence of Rowan and his early collaborations with Jerry Garcia. It’s an exclamation point to finish a very good album.
As a bonus for Twangville readers, Walker & Groopman are offering an autographed copy of We Made It Home for the winner of a drawing. Just post your favorite bluegrass song and at least one artist who covers it in the comments section before November 15th, 2013, at midnight ET and the winner (drawn at random from all those submitted) will get a signed copy of We Made It Home.
**By participating in Twangville contests you agree to allow Twangville to post the winner’s name and city on our web site. We pass along the winning addresses to the record company or appropriate party for fulfillment. Twangville will not use your address for any other reason. Contest open to US residents only.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.