Mandolinist Caleb Roberts was once a part of Slim Cessna's Auto Club, which specializes in giving rootsy stylings a vigorous tweak. Open Road, on the other hand, leaves bluegrass's basics well enough alone, and that clearly suits Roberts just fine. The Fort Collins quintet's second album for Rounder is just as lively and heartfelt as its predecessor, 2002's Cold Wind, proving once again that youthful exuberance can give old-timey music new life.
Lead singer/guitarist Bradford Lee Folk is a songwriter, too, but his trio of compositions included here are originals only in the broadest sense. The banjo that kicks off "Southern Track" is a case in point; it's so reminiscent of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" that picker Keith Reed practically morphs into Earl Scruggs before your very ears. Yet Folk's loving fealty to the form means that his tunes sit comfortably alongside a gaggle of well-chosen, well-performed covers. Foremost among them is the opener, "Bald Knob Arkansas," a Louvin Brothers obscurity that's transformed into a delightful hoedown thanks to the instrumental interplay of Roberts, Reed, bassist Eric Thorin and fiddler Bobby Britt -- not to mention Folk's ebullient singing, which emanates equally from his nose and his heart.
There's no telling if Open Road's members will eventually transcend the traditions that inspire them. For now, it's enough that they perform them so transcendently.
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