CD Review THE ROYS – Lonesome Whistle
by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show
Rural Rhythm Records
UPC – 732351108028
Release Date – 22 March, 2011
3.5 STARS Wwwu
1. Coal Minin’ Man
2. That’s What Makes It Love (featuring Ricky Skaggs & The Whites)
3. Nothin’ I Can Do About It Now
4. Right Back At You
5. Give A Ride To The Devil
6. Lonesome Whistle
7. Everything I Ever Wanted
8. My Oh My How Time Flies
9. I Wonder What God’s Thinking
11. High Road
Eleven tracks dripping in wholesome bluegrass goodness
On this their first venture with Rural Rhythm records LONESOME WHISTLE is the third album from brother and sister duo Lee and Elaine Roy. Having seen the path that Dierks Bentley had taken with his bluegrass album Up on the Ridge, The Roys felt the urge to take a similar direction. In interview Elaine says “It feels like were coming home with our music”. On this brand new Americana/ Bluegrass outing, completed in 4 weeks, they wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 11 tracks and both as songwriters and musicians they have come full circle. This wise move has proved a fruitful one as the genre perfectly fits the siblings vocal styles and harmonies. The duo were born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and when aged eight and five (Elaine being the elder) were raised by their French-Canadian parents after a move to Coal Bridge, New Brunswick, Canada. A place where as young children there were 3 objectives, dig in the dirt, climb trees or play music – they fell in love with them all! Growing up musical influences came from listening to Arcadian music (Bluegrass with an Irish mix). Their Grandma played fiddle and her brother and sisters sang, played guitar and piano.
On this recording, The Roys are not ashamed to go back to their roots which largely depict a landscape of American lifestyles enduring tough times. They asked Andy Leftwich to produce the album who in turn enlisted fellow top-notch Kentucky Thunder players Randy Kohrs (Dobro), Cody Kilby (Acoustic Guitar), Justin Moses (Banjo), Mark Fain (Bass) and Steve Brewster (drums). With this high quality solid sound combined with the vocals of Lee and Elaine, either as individuals, or better still in unison, the overall result is both a satisfying and winning formula.
The lead of track ‘Coal Minin’ Man’ was a song that Leftwich insisted on its inclusion. Lee Roy wrote it with his friend Matthew Rogers who comes from the coal mining area of East Pennsylvania, thus bringing the concept to the table. Rather than the subject matter referring to gloom and doom of miners trapped in a hole, in this instance they wanted to paint a much brighter picture and this fun up-tempo number does just that, portraying miners as proud and hard working Americans. It pays tribute and talks of the alarm clock third-generation miner, up before dawn, sometimes not seeing sunlight before returning homebound to his appreciative woman who in turn makes everything OK before facing another day. The song which has an accompanying promotional video is not without humour as Lee sings: ‘Well that boss man he’s always screamin’ / And it echoes through the mine / So that coal man takes out his frustrations / With a stick of good old dynamite’ – Yes this album starts off with a bang, big-time !
Sustained by the power of love the sweet and melodic ‘That’s What Makes It Love’ speaks of the sacrifices of a single mother for her family, a struggling farmer and a devoted elderly husband caring for his life’s companion. Elaine Roys’ vocal in the opening and closing verses brings to mind Lee Ann Womack. As is the case on bluegrass albums they are not without a religious reference as they sing: ‘He was born on Christmas Day A common man, a carpenter by trade / But when they nailed him to that cross’. The vocals on the album were cut in The Roys own studio but Lee may well have thought that all his Christmas gifts had arrived at once on the recording of this one. With the song written in the style of his idol Ricky Skaggs, not only did Ricky make a guest appearance along with their mates The Whites but it was recorded at Skaggs Place Studios – indeed “a pinch-me moment”
The pace quickens as the banjo kicks in on ‘Nothin’ I Can Do About It Now’. Andy Leftwich plays a mean mandolin as love turns cold as steel, as the man kicked off the train hammers frustratingly on its side as he watches his lover jump board for the next town, never to return.
Penned by Elaine Roy the gentle heart breaker ‘Right Back At You’ is beautifully supplemented by the aching dobro. Realising the need to move from a jilted lover for therapeutic purposes the pain is thrown back in spade loads along with the tears and empty promises.
As wrong choices are taken, a youngster learns the hard truths for the long haul on ‘Give A Ride To The Devil’, as wisdom wins over temptation.
The up-tempo title cut ‘Lonesome Whistle’ depicts on a rainy summer night, a woman watching a soldier bound for foreign lands, leave on a train. Only years later for her lover to sadly return on his very last ride with its aching lines: ‘They stood in salute as it carried him home / Draped in the flag comin’ off ole # 9 / The day he took his last ride’ – The cry of the whistle and chugin’ of the train is a constant reminder of the pain.
The beautiful soft ballad ‘Everything I Ever Wanted’ lovingly pays homage to mothers through the eyes of daughters sifting through a shoe box filled with old photographs and the impact those monumental images hold. Whether it be as a beautiful bride, posed at a graduation ceremony or holding a new born with adoption papers.
The fast moving toe-tapper ‘My Oh My How Time Flies’ was written with Texan artist Deryl Dodd. Tremendous interplay is on display as the players trade licks on banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass and percussion in such a masterful manner.
In contrast the mood quickly changes on album standout ‘I Wonder What God’s Thinking’. Delicious harmonies completely draw the listener in on this deeply moving piece. It morally questions but doesn’t answer what God may be thinking as he observes a world where a scared 15 year homeless girl is ignored on the streets, people die for the colour of their skin and the clothes they wear – ‘When the rain falls from heaven is it the tears from his eyes’ ?
‘Trailblazer’ written by Elaine Roy allows her to give a nod to her idol Dolly Parton. Arranged and sung in true Dolly fashion it’s about chasing a dream. Something of a women’s anthem the title came to Roy whilst sitting in traffic one day behind a Trailblazer SUV – Seems like destiny is on the road she’s on.
As we finally drift onto ‘High Road’ one cannot but help admire the song craft here. Written by Pete Sallis and CMA Award winner Tia Sillers, it was brought to The Roys attention at a songwriters round in Nashville. Months later Pete gave them the go ahead to record it. Hopefully songs like this will inspire them to raise the bar still further regarding their own writing skills and then as the song suggests the stretch of dirt may then be paved with gold.
Grab a coffee put this disc in your player and The Roys will provide you with a perfect blend.