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Featured Album Review

Hitchhiking To California – Billy Blue Records (2021)

Alan Bibey & Grasstowne

It's exciting to watch Billy Blue Records continue to sign more and more exquisite bluegrass acts. Likewise, it's always exciting to listen to a brand new Alan Bibey & Grasstowne album. This band has been recording since 2007. The founding members were Alan Bibey on mandolin, Lee Sawyer on bass, Jason Davis on banjo, Phil Leadbetter on resonator guitar, and the late, great Steve Gulley playing guitar and singing. This line-up spoke for itself and an iconic band was born.

Several years and recordings later, the band has gone through some changes and some band members. Some members that we’ve seen come and go have included, Travis Greer, Adam Haynes, Kameron Keller, Justin Jenkins, Ronnie Stewart and Shannon Slaughter. Since the last record 'Gonna Rise & Shine,' the studio members remain Alan Bibey on mandolin, Justin Jenkins on banjo, Zak McLamb on bass, Tony Watt on guitar, Ronnie Stewart on guitar and fiddle. Only the fiddle player changed from Laura Orshaw to newest member Kati Penn. Alan is a lucky guy to have such great options keep coming to him on fiddle and vocals. Kati will be a great fit for the band.

This record definitely has all you could possibly ask for. Hard-driving, uptempo songs, beautiful waltzes, classic country tunes, and of course, gospel. The entire album is unmistakably an Alan Bibey & Grasstowne record. This man, this artist knows his style. I loved the last record, the all-gospel album “Gonna Rise And Shine“. This new bluegrass album takes the band and their music to an all new level. The musicianship is remarkable and the arrangements are stunning. It’s almost as if you have five musicians that leave you that feeling there is a sixth. There is just more. When the mandolin picks up the singing melody, when the banjo doubles the fiddle and the fiddle answers the vocals. The vocals and the harmonies leave enough space for the lyrics and every syllable is almost a fiddle lick again. Then you have this award winning mandolin player who, in my opinion, hasn’t been honored enough for his fantastic singing. And above all (and yes, I'm a banjo nerd), we get Justin Jenkins. I mean, even if you know the original recording of the song “Hitchhiking To California“ on the album 'Baucom, Bibey, Graham and Haley' from 1998, the new version will bring you to your knees. Everytime the banjo kicks in it drives me crazy. The incredible bass line, the rhythm guitar… the full ensemble is all completely amazing.

I could go on forever about Grasstowne and the new recording, seriously. So, let me just put it this way. I love this record and I'm sure you will too. I think this is Alan Bibey's most complete and best album to date. I really hope to meet him some day and shake his hand.

Reviewed by:
Severin Theinert
for Uncut Grass
March 2021

Americana Music Profiles