Mountain Heart, one of the most talented, versatile and explosive sextets in the acoustic firmament, will offer a special treat to fans new and old this October 23rd with the release of Road That Never Ends (The Live Album) on Rural Rhythm Records. Building on the group's already recognized strengths, Road That Never Ends ups the ante by bringing new elements of rock, blues and even jazz to its signature blend of bluegrass, gospel and jamgrass, underlining the sextet's unique role in the world of acoustic music.
Recorded on May 26th of this year in the intimacy of Ann Arbor, Michigan's 400-seat venue, The Ark, The Road... represents Mountain Heart's first live recording, and as their faithful listeners (from cozy clubs to such fabled festivals as Telluride, MerleFest and RockyGrass) well know, it is in front of a live audience that this award-winning combo is truly in its exuberant, celebratory element. Presenting nearly an hour's worth of tried-and-true fan favorites along with some choice new additions destined to lock-in even upon first hearing, the recording also showcases the band's newest addition, guitarist and primary lead singer Josh Shilling.
Just 23 years old but with a wealth of pan-genre experience (and already a gifted songwriter), Shilling's elastic, expressive tenor handles the traditional high lonesome sound with uncanny flair even as his way with ballads (as on his own seductive, heartbreaking "Who's the Fool Now?") and soulful, gut-bucket blues (the low-down original "It Works Both Ways" and a scintillating interpretation of the Allman Brothers' eternal "Whipping Post") further expand Mountain Heart's already-enviable stylistic range and command.
Of course, to hold his own in this vaunted company, he HAS to be good. Formed in 1998 with a core group of veterans from Alison Krauss's multi-platinum and highly-awarded, Union Station, and Doyle Lawson's hallowed Quicksilver juggernaut, Mountain Heart cadged its first annual International Bluegrass Music Association award ('Emerging Artist of the Year') in 1999, and they've been racking up group and individual awards and nominations ever since.
Mandolinist Adam Steffy has garnered six consecutive IBMA nominations as best in his field (winning FIVE!), fiddler, founding member and Road... producer Jim Van Cleve earned a 2006 GRAMMY nomination for 'Best Country Instrumental' with his solo disc No Apologies, (on Rural Rhythm Records) and the rest of the gang (co-founder/banjo wizard Barry Abernathy, bassist Jason Moore and guitarist Clay Jones) routinely dazzle crowds with their individual prowess, intuitive, extra-sensory group interplay and - always - an uncommon knack for crowd-pleasing showmanship.
The disc features scintillating live versions of fan favorites such as Steve Gulley's "I'm Just Here to Ride the Train," a showboating workout on the beloved "Heart Like a Road Sign," Barry Abernathy's stellar reading of Pat McLaughlin's soaring "God and Everybody," and rollicking, kinetic instrumentals "Devil's Courthouse" (from Van Cleve's solo disc) and the lights-out closer "#6 Barn Dance" (which somehow falls just short of setting the Michigan woodlands ablaze).
An extra-special treat is the welcome return of "The Gospel Train." Mountain Heart's awe-inspiring rendition of the well-traveled traditional roof-raiser helped them earn an IBMA award for 'Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year' in 2002 with the album The Journey, but their then-label has since folded, leaving this inspirational evergreen out-of-print until now.
Change - as we all know - can be taxing, particularly when it involves the personnel of a much-loved touring band. But with Road That Never Ends, Mountain Heart memorably meets the challenge, keeping the home fires burning even as it strikes out for - and conquers - new musical territory. Their hearts may lie in the mountains, but wherever the road that never ends takes them, these acoustic music masters will always make it feel like a natural home.