With The Winning Hand, Lonesome River Band reveals their confidence and power

Article Contributed by Mountain Home … | Published on Sunday, June 16, 2024

It’s hard to think of a genre more committed to sustained creative careers than bluegrass. Case in point: the 41-years-and-counting path of Mountain Home Music Company stalwarts, Lonesome River Band. Though the last remaining original member departed before the turn of the century, the group — a quintet for more than 20 years now — hasn’t so much reinvented itself as refined a profoundly influential signature sound that has a seemingly endless appeal to successive generations of fans and musicians alike. Led by 30-plus year veteran and award-winning banjo man Sammy Shelor, who has presided over one stellar lineup after another, LRB remains among the genre’s most widely admired and powerful draws, both in person and on streaming platforms.

Now, after a succession of singles that have once again reaffirmed their presence in the genre’s top ranks, Lonesome River Band has released a new collection, The Winning Hand.

“It’s the first full collection of songs with the latest configuration of LRB,” Shelor notes, “featuring Jesse Smathers and Adam Miller sharing the lead vocals backed by Kameron Keller, Mike Hartgrove and myself. We hope everyone enjoys what we have put together for this project. Our songwriting friends have once again come through with some great new songs!”

Sure enough, the material on the set both confirms that the band’s long-established sound is as vital as ever, and that Shelor and his associates have an ear, too, for new directions. Among the songs in the former vein are the project’s third single, “Blues of the Night”; favored writer Daniel Salyer’s “That’s Why Trains Are Lonesome”; and “Oh, Darlin’,” and “Brown Hill,” from the songbook of the influential Lost & Found, whose “Harvest Time” and “Struttin’ to Ferrum” found places on previous LRB Mountain Home projects. Others, like first single, “Near Mrs.,” its follow-up, “She Don’t Know I’m Alive,” and the part serious, part tongue-in-cheek “A Happy Song” (“Why can’t someone help me out/And just sing me a happy song”) reflect their origins in and around the world of country music, while hit writer Adam Wright’s wry “Nothin' Comes To Mind” offers a further echo of the Lost & Found. Yet there’s also a bit of new ground plowed with the delicate syncopation of “Charlottesville,” and a nod to the elemental bluegrass combination of fiddle and banjo that has Mike Hartgrove and Shelor front and center on Tommy Jackson’s durable “Tom and Jerry.”  

The band's current single, "Queen Of Hearts," features the voice of Smathers, who co-wrote the song with Miller after gaining inspiration from a card game. "I started writing this song when I was in high school," Miller says, "I never really loved it, and I sent it to Jesse when I joined the band and said, 'Hey tear this a part.' He did just that."

In short, The Winning Hand offers an expansive yet no-frills demonstration of the power that Lonesome River Band has been bringing to recording studios for decades. On its cover, the quintet are seated behind a simple table, looking confidently at the camera with just a hint of a smile on their faces — and for good reason: from start to finish, their new collection is, indeed, a winning hand.

Listen to The Winning Hand HERE.

Lonesome River Band is, from left, Adam Miller, Sammy Shelor, Kameron Keller, Mike Hartgrove and Jesse Smathers. Photo by Sandlin Gaither.