‘White Horse’ - The Oly Mountain Boys – expressive bluegrass concept album(October 28, 2014)
Now here’s a first for me and for many I suspect, a bluegrass concept album. Such notions are more usually considered the province of progressive rock bands, however The Oly Mountain Boys have ‘broken the rules’ and come up with ‘White Horse’, which covers the life of a fictional early-20th century character, Charlie McCarver. They wrap his story around 18 original bluegrass songs dividing the album into three sections, ‘Part One: Charlie & Lisa-Ann’, ‘Part Two: Loneliness & Desperation’ and ‘Part Three: Memory & Regrets’ – brought together they tell a tale worth telling. ‘White Horse’ comes in a card box with a sumptuous 68-page booklet of original narratives and artwork to accompany the music.
In synopsis, life once held promise for Charlie McCarver, along with his young, pregnant wife, Lisa-Ann, he built a cabin next to the Pacific Ocean but before long the idyll vanished under the hard heel of adverse conditions. Worn down by incessant rain and lack of work, the McCarvers left their cabin for the town. Unable to find a job, gambling and drinking took its toll, his marriage unravelled and Charlie broke down, descending into a life of violence with nothing left but regret.
Aside from the strength of the story there’s powerful music here. From a gentle opening tune, the album builds a reflective introduction ‘The Ballad Of Charlie & Lisa Ann (It Was Spring)’ overflowing with anticipation and hope, through the mood-changing ‘The Cabin Walls’, to the ominous ‘Don’t Fight The Flower’ and threatening ‘It Rained For 40 Days’. From there the fall is dramatic – Charlie living with internal darkness, raging sadness and falling out of control - songs like ‘The Sky Fell Down’, ‘The Demon Day’, ‘Six Hours’ and ‘Charlie’s Lament’ tell the tale all too graphically.
The secret of the concept album is to make story and music inseparable. That’s exactly what happens here. It will take some listening to and you’re unlikely to absorb it in one hit but it definitely has that elusive ‘something’ all good tales must possess – you care what happens.
The Oly Mountain Boys are Tye Menser (banjo, piano, lead vocals), Derek McSwain (mandolin, vocals), Chris Rutledge (guitar, vocals), Phil Post (bass, dobro, pedal steel, vocals) and Josh Grice (fiddle).
Reviewer: Tom Franks