Joe Diffie: Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album

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Joe Diffie
Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album
[4.5 stars]

He’s had success in the country field – maybe not as many as some, or as much as a singer of his caliber probably deserves – but Joe Diffie has done all right for himself, both as an artist and as a songwriter. But his new project on Rounder, Homecoming: The Bluegrass Album, shows what can happen when a pure singer like Diffie takes on a project that’s close to his heart.

Featuring a great mix of songs by some old friends, some classic artists, and the singer himself, Diffie is joined on Homecoming by a band of some of Nashville’s finest bluegrass players, including mandolinist Mike Compton, guitarist Bryan Sutton, and dobro whiz Rob Ickes. And the background vocalists are no slouches either, with Rhonda Vincent, Alecia Nugent and Harley Allen among them. Diffie’s delivery on every track is on the money, and his affinity for bluegrass comes through loud and clear.

The album opens with the Flatt & Scruggs classic “Somehow Tonight,” with a vocal that shows that Diffie isn’t just a country singer trying to do something new. He sings like a broken man on Shawn Camp’s heart-rending “Lonesome and Dry As a Bone,” and Camp also appears as a co-writer on the humorous and appropriate “Rainin’ On Her Rubber Dolly Now,” with music from the Grascals. And it’s all produced by Luke Wooten, who understands what to do with this material and instrumentation as well as anybody on Music Row.

The Diffie original “’Til Death,” a pure bluegrass song with recitation about adultery and murder, may be the lyrical highlight of the album; when Diffie matter-of-factly sings “evil thoughts ran through my mind/I began to track her down/I would not be satisfied/’til she was in the ground,” there’s no way a listener can’t be glued to the edge of his or her seat to see what happens next. The biggest surprise on the album, though, is Diffie’s treatment of the old Otis-Redding/Black Crowes number “Hard to Handle.” If Diffie and crew were able to play and sing this thing any faster it would sound like the Chipmunks.

Enough already. This is a wonderful record that pays tribute to the masters with the freshness of 2010. Here’s hoping Joe does more work like this in the future.

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