With so many musicians pushing the envelope of bluegrass music, and taking it into musical spaces it's never been before, it's refreshing to find a band that sticks a bit closer to home. Jerry Butler and the Blu J's play the kind of bluegrass that Bill Monroe would easily recognize: high harmony, banjo breaks and gospel tunes. Everybody loves a good barnburner, and this is a band that can deliver it ("Bell Cove Breakdown," "One Step Two Step") but on songs like "Daddy's Girl" they also show that it's about a sound, not just speed and a snappy ending.
There's a good pedigree here too: for a bluegrass band, there is perhaps nothing better than the inclusion of a bona fide Bluegrass Boy in the mix, that is, someone who was hired by Bill Monroe himself. Indeed, working for Bill Monroe is to bluegrass music as Julliard is to concert piano. Here, Jack Hicks, the banjo player, is not only an ex-Bluegrass Boy, but has backed Lester Flatt and Jim and Jesse along the way. Jerry Butler is no slouch either, having played the White House as a child, and fans of bluegrass will recognize his voice from the beautiful Pine Mountain Railroad hit, "Beyond the Rain."
In this set, the thematic territory is all bluegrass: troubles in love on "Never Again," pining for a love on "Looking at the World Through a Windshield" and having to lie in the bed you've made on "Stranger in my Own Home Town." Bluegrass has never been about the big things, but rather revisiting the smaller things in life -- home, family, a bit of fun -- and Jerry Butler and the Blu J's handle such topics admirably. They won't take you anywhere new, perhaps, but they will do something even better: They'll remind you of some of the important things closer at hand. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that.