A lot of critics are dumping country for bluegrass, and when I listen to a record like Carolina Blue’s Take Me Back, I can’t help but share the same sentiments as many of my contemporaries. From a critical standpoint, not only is Take Me Back a more mature look for the band responsible for its creation, it actually feels like an upgrade from the commerciality-stained nonsense of a disconnected country mainstream — though it bears many of the same aesthetical traits when we break it down to nuts and bolts. Carolina Blue aren’t a country band, but they’re making a bucolic treasure for the genre’s fans in this latest effort.
There’s a ton of agility to behold in this LP, with tunes like the opener “Grown Cold,” the upbeat “Ballad of Mary Ann” and even the deliberate “Too Wet to Plow” showing off some nimbleness of a more refined strain, but self-control is always as paramount as speed is in Take Me Back. If there’s one thing that Carolina Blue are aware of as a band, it’s the dangers of negative decadence, and they demonstrate as much with the disciplined approach they take to a cover (“Country Lovin’ Son of a Gun”) as well as an original (“Number 73987”).
Having a command over the lyricism in “Blue Grass” and “Too Wet to Plow,” both of which were written by artists other than those in Carolina Blue, is no easy task for any player, but it seems to come rather naturally in this pair of performances. One of the most interesting elements of Take Me Back is how well it balances out the fresh with the refurbished, and provided this is the kind of dedication Carolina Blue will continue putting into their future work, I don’t imagine them disappearing from the underground spotlight anytime soon.
“Lost and Lonely,” “I’m Gonna Wait on Jesus” and “March Around Jericho” present us with some nice contrast between the tonal presence of the vocal and the string play in the backdrop, and I think muted discordance of this variety is precisely what this LP needed to sound as edgy as it does (particularly in comparison to some of the puritan content coming out of this band’s scene at the moment). There’s nothing wrong with mixing things up when it results in the magic Carolina Blue are making here, and it’s safe to say that a warm reception from other fans and critics could inspire the group to experiment even more in their next studio work.
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Though country and bluegrass aficionados will forever feud over the best songwriters and performances in the history of American roots music, you don’t have to pick between the two genres to find something to fall in love with in Take Me Back. Led by players in Carolina Blue who are as confident as they are cool in the recording studio, Take Me Back pummels us with anticipation in tracks like “Grown Cold” only to hit us with more catharsis than some will be able to handle in “Black Knob Breakdown,” and for this listener, that’s a rollercoaster ride I can’t turn down.