Bluegrass music has spanned centuries; its ability to penetrate the soul and send shivers down the spine only contributes to its staying power. In their brilliant new LP I’ll Come Back, Bay Area roots powerhouse AJ Lee and Blue Summit thrust their musical flag into the grassy landscape, coming back to the style they love the most. This theme is laced throughout the album, from its title to standout tracks like “Back To Bluegrass,” where the group wears their collective heart on their musical sleeve as they pay homage to their roots.
Led by award-winning mandolin prodigy Lee, who began her professional career at the ripe old age of seven when she joined Palo Alto family band the Tuttles, (formed by Tuttle patriarch Jack with his children Molly, Sullivan and Michael as members) Blue Summit begins the adventure with the sassy swagger of album opener “Lemons and Tangerines.” The was song purportedly inspired by a grafted fruit tree in Lee’s San Jose backyard, though the tree could easily be a lyrical metaphor for a lover. Either way, Lee’s silky vocals are accentuated by gorgeous, sun-drenched harmonies, with Chad Bowen holding down the rocking low-end, as Sullivan Tuttle and Jesse Fichman provide texture with their respective guitars allowing Jan Purat’s fiddle to sing.
In the playful turns of “Something Special,” a love song that eases the listener into the band’s interpretation of the traditional, Purat steps into the spotlight and delivers as his fiddle swells and swirls, dancing with Lee’s twinkling mandolin licks supported by strong harmonies swelling in the background. Lee leans on the storytelling aspect of the genre in “Monongah Mine,” relaying the gut-wrenching tale of a mining accident in 1907 West Virginia. Most of the miners were immigrants; she tenderly sings of the heartbreak and loss of hope as miners were trapped in the depths of the earth, declaring “There’s no American Dream in mine number six.”
With “Put Your Head Down,” a barn-burner awash in minor chords, the momentum moves like a freight train into “Faithful,” a Flatt and Scruggs-style heartbreak-oriented yet playful romp that keeps the energy headed towards the rafters. After the instrumental “Rodney Dangerfield,” a track penned by fiddler Purat and well-suited to sawdust-covered dance floors, we’re introduced to “Magdalene,” written from the perspective of a woman in love with another woman, ending the album on a wistful note.
Throughout the album’s 11 tracks, each member’s mind-blowing talent is showcased as the band delivers tight yet expansive jams, making the listening experience a joy from cover to cover. With I’ll Come Back, AJ Lee and Blue Summit powerfully propel the genre forward, their influences of country, soul, swing, rock, and rock on full display as they deftly weave their contribution into the tapestry of the bluegrass tradition.
You can listen to I’ll Come Back by AJ Lee and Blue Summit on Spotify, or even better, purchase it from the band.
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