In their third studio album, titled simply Take Me Back, Carolina Blue aren’t necessarily trying to relive the past so much as they’re attempting to reimagine it with an invigorating, ultra-modern approach to the moxie of bluegrass that couldn’t sound much more fetching than it does this autumn. Determined to challenge themselves with hybridity that extends well beyond the compositional technique of their arrangements, Carolina Blue aren’t taking the same road to riches many of their closest rivals have in recent years – they’re getting out of their comfort zone and experimenting with their own artistry, which is something a lot of acts (both solo and groups alike) simply don’t have the courage to try themselves. This is a brave effort, but moreover, one I would deem a true success by all measures.
Aesthetically speaking, there’s a heady country element to songs like “Grown Cold,” “Raining in Roanoke” and “I’m Gonna Wait on Jesus” that simply wasn’t previous in the first two Carolina Blue albums, but I don’t think this look is signaling a complete departure from their core sound at all. On the contrary, there’s a diversification of artistry transpiring in this disc that should make longtime listeners very intrigued by all of the possibilities that now lie ahead for this band – after all, it’s a little difficult to break out of the American underground when you’re consistently tailoring content to the needs of an indie audience above all others. This group doesn’t look to stay idle in their career together, and the ambitiousness of a seemingly black and white “March Around Jericho,” “Black Knob Breakdown” and a fantastic cover of “Blue Grass” are evidence enough for me.
You don’t need any percussion to make the grooves in “Ballad of Mary Ann” as skyscraper-sized as those in “Lost and Lonely,” “Take Me to the Mountains” or even the patient “Country Lovin’ Son of a Gun ,” and thus, you won’t wind it in any of these performances. Efficiency is so crucial when trying to produce something as sophisticatedly complex as bluegrass truly is at its finest and most well-preserved, and for Take Me Back, Carolina Blue were very particular about how their virtuosities were allowed to be presented – specifically because of this reason. They’re thinking about the technicalities as much as they are the cosmetics, which makes this a noteworthy LP in the bluegrass genre all on its own.
I was not expecting to hear a new ‘grass album sporting the kind of physicality and precision production work Take Me Back is this November, but I’ll be happy to keep it cranked up just the same. Carolina Blue aren’t the first band in their scene to conjure up some support from the country and Americana communities with a fabulous new addition to the soundtrack of 2020, but if you’re looking out for a group that has a fiery but melodic demeanor that no one else in their section of the pop music spectrum has got at the moment, this might be the right act for you.