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Published: 2004/02/26
by Mike Greenhaus

Side By Side – Blue Ridge

Sugar Hill Records 3981

Side By Side can by summed up by a series of "s" words: short, sweet,
sarcastic, and full of strings. The third album by Georgia's bluegrass
pickers, Side By Side is a quick, uptempo romp through the Blue Ridge
Mountains. It's also full of quick, ironic phrasings that helped place the
term traditional plus" in the group's press kit.

A quintet of string players who grew out '80s pickers New Quicksilver, Blue
Ridge are a refreshing mix of both old and new styles of mountain music.
Formed around five bluegrass vets – mandolinist Alan Bibley, guitarist
Junior Sisk, fiddler Alan Johnson, bassist Ed Biggerstaff, and banjoist Joey
Cox – Blue Ridge is a collective of sorts, aligning several bluegrass pros
and one young budding banjo wiz (Cox).

Side By Side is a successful listen, but not so much because of Blue
Ridge's extensive resume. Though Side By Side's somewhat smug liner
notes spend a great deal of time discussing each of Blue Ridge's rich roots
in bluegrass and country, it's the quirky phrasing in the lyrics that earn
Blue Ridge their gold stars. The album is an exciting update the traditional
bluegrass template, mixing old-time melodies with modern, punchy prose.

One key track, "What If (When Two Can Live As Cheap As One)," comes complete
with a traditional framework, but is filled with off-beat black comedy
lyrics like "when all the rivers cease to wonder and the bells have lost
their tone / people are all happy and satisfied at home." Another, "Pocket
Full or Money," seems to turn the infamous Bonnie and Clyde
soundtrack on its backside: "The bank roll in my pockets /'bout to catch on
fire / If you'd try to give me work / I'd say I'm not for hire / I don't
care if it's on sale or not / Money ain't a problem cause I got a lot." Yet,
these lyrics are juxtaposed with excellent workouts on traditional sounding
bluegrass jams.

Fans looking past the group's humor will also find some gems on this Sugar
Hill disc. A cover of Jesse Winchester's classic "Brand New Tennessee Waltz"
is an early album highlight, while the instrumental "Avalanche" displays
some old-time pickin'.

A fun listen from start to finish, Side By Side is modern bluegrass
at its best. Keeping their music at its most basic, Blue Ridge allows their
quick playing and smart phrasings to tango like the best dance partners.
Incorporating subtle bits of newgrass and gospel as well, Blue Ridge use
their time wisely on this short disc.

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