Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Roys - Lonesome Whistle


The Roys - Lonesome Whistle
2011, Rural Rhythm Records

The Roys continue their march into the world of modern country with a traditional sound born of bluegrass and Appalachian country/folk on Lonesome Whistle.  Led by Lee And Elaine Roy, The Roys use meticulous instrumental work and sublime vocal harmonies to forward songs of love, life and inspiration.  2010 saw The Roys in their national television debut on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.   After listening to Lonesome Whistle it’s easy to imagine that appearance to be anything but their last.

Lonesome Whistle opens with "Coal Minin' Man", a generous helping of bluegrass and country that tells the story of a third-generation coal miner and his day-to-day life.  Infused with a respect for those who toil away beneath the ground, the song is full of a down-home flavor and buoyed by instrumental work that's nothing short of amazing.  Lee Roy takes the lead with his rough hewn but pleasant voice.  "That's What Makes It Love" features guest appearances by Ricky Skaggs and The Whites.  It's a sweet exposition about what love really is, and is a melodic and rhythmic treat for the ears.  Lee Roy's earthy baritone mixes with Elaine Roy's backwoods vocal charms to create a perfect blend.

"Nothin' I Can Do About It Now" explores the emotions of man who has watched his love go off on a train, never to return.  Opening with some hot banjo picking, it turns into a delicious bluegrass number that could stand on its own for instrumental work.  Lee Roy's voice evokes a loneliness that is beautiful in its loss.  "Right Back At You" is a classic-style country number with a kiss-off motif.  The song itself is a bit bland, but Elaine Roy's voice saves it and then some.  "Give A Ride To The Devil" is a morality tale based on poor choices.  In each case someone steps in with guidance to keep the listeners on track.  The song is well-written and evocative without crossing the line into preachy. 

"Lonesome Whistle" is a masterpiece of songwriting.  Told in the third person, the song lays out the story of a woman who sends her soldier off on a train.  He came home to buried, but she's still haunted by the whistle of the train that took him away.  It's a sad tale, but told in barn-burning fashion in a breakneck bluegrass arrangement that will have you dancing.  Elaine Roy takes charge here and reaches the rafters in the process.  She sticks around for "Everything I Ever Wanted", a tribute to an adoptive mom and the influence she had on Roy's life.  This is a sweet ballad with a classic country sound and a modern pop balladeer sensibility. 

Lee Roy steps forward for "Me Oh My How Time Flies", a high-speed musical chase with all hands on deck.  Banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass and percussion provide the dynamic framework, with violin dancing like a dervish in the seams.  "I Wonder What God's Thinking" is a morality ballad contrasting the behavior of the world as a whole with the love of God.  It's a pretty acoustic ballad; well-written but perhaps a bit preachy.  The song works from a simple moral perspective, but may turn off some listeners.  "Trailblazer" is an energetic turn about a young woman embarking on the world at large.  The song is tailored with great energy and a positive outlook about the possibilities of a life just beginning to bloom, and features perhaps the best pure pop chorus on the album.  Lonesome Whistle winds down with "High Road", a slow ballad about making the right choices in life.  Elaine Roy evokes Loretta Lynn here with a sweet vocal that's among her best work.

The Roys turn country-pop on its head on Lonesome Whistle, getting back to the divergent roots of country music while maintaining a distinctive pop sensibility that is welcome in any musical age.  As an instrumental unit the band is top notch, able to duke it out with any group working inside or outside of Music Row.  The voices of Lee and Elaine Roy work wonderfully well on their own, and even more so when they combine.  Lonesome Whistle is bound to be considered among the top bluegrass recordings of 2011, and may even make significant noise on the pop/country charts.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

 Learn more about The Roys at http://www.theroysonline.com/ or www.myspace.com/theroyscountryelaineandlee.   Lonesome Whistle is available from Amazon.com as a CD or Download.  The album is also available digitally from iTunes.