REVIEW: The Kody Norris Show — All Suited Up (LP)
Bursting to life in “Farmin’ Man.” Crushing us with pleasant poeticisms of a distinctly American variety in “In the Shade of the Big Buffalo.” Chasing the ghosts of a bygone time in the history of bluegrass in “Kentucky Darlin’.” Experimenting with breakneck speed in “Whatcha Gonna Do.” In singles like “Brand New Hit in Nashville” and “Love Bug,” The Kody Norris Show sound as bold and brilliant as they do in the likes of “Virginia Bound,” “I’m Going Back to the Mountains” or “Let’s Go Strollin,” all of which you can be sure to find on their new album, All Suited Up. While there hasn’t been a shortage of records in this style to gain some traction across genre lines in the last two years, what makes All Suited Up so special is the fresh demeanor it presents rather rustic concepts in. “Old Carolina” and “Uncle Bill’s Still” are, for all intents and purposes, snapshots of history recorded in stereo sound for our enjoyment here, but under the assertive command of one Kody Norris, they sound like the start of a spring season that bluegrass fans are desperately in need of — especially given the lack of live music in the past year.
The instrumentation never fails to extend the vibe created by the lyrics in this album, but if there’s one song that really captures the multilayered artistic wit Norris has as a frontman, it’s probably the showcase “Whatcha Gonna Do” at the conclusion of the tracklist. His wife Mary’s versatility as a fiddler, mandolinist and harmonizer is put to the test in “Lady of the Evening,” “Farmin’ Man” and “Kentucky Darlin’,” but I actually think she comes through the sonic trial by fire sounding like the single strongest instrumentalist in this group. The way these musicians are playing off of the energy and each other is absolutely captivating for a melody-obsessed critic like myself, and it’s rather intriguing how magnificently they flow together when the mood is right in songs like “Ole Carolina” and “In the Shade of the Big Buffalo.” There’s no competing for our affections in this album, but instead a shared love of bluegrass music and the culture that gave it to us left out in the open for all who listen to All Suited Up.
In the who’s who of bluegrass music, this is a band that has reigned supreme for the better part of the last ten years, and I don’t see that reputation changing one iota in the wake of their dedicated performances on this LP. They’ve definitely given listeners around the country a lot to look forward to as they return to live shows once again in the near future, and if they can tack at least half of the tracks in All Suited Up onto their setlist by the time they’ve rolled around to my quiet small town, I’ll be more than pleased as both a critic and a fan. The Kody Norris Show is a must-see in 2021, and I won’t be the only bluegrass buff to say so.