Let’s Go To The Fair
I saw this Northern, California-based bluegrass band at last year’s well-attended Susanville Bluegrass Festival. From the first few notes it was apparent, from both the fine picking and high and lonesome singing, that all four of these guys shared a deep love of the music. Named after a heavily wooded mountain that separates the San Francisco Bay Area from a view of the Pacific Ocean, Windy Hill came together in a local high school wood-shop class as mandolin player Henry Warde and banjoist Ryan Breen discovered a mutual love for songs by the likes of Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys and Jimmy Martin and set out to learn to play and sing the traditional music. Guitarist Thomas Wille and another high school buddy, upright bass player Kyle McCabe completed the band in 2009, with its reputation growing with each festival or club appearance. Five band originals are the icing on the cake – my favorites are Warde’s up-tempo “Highway 84” (about driving home to Pescadero after a band practice) and Breen’s episodic instrumental landscape “Sheldon’s Dream.” The covers are well-chosen and full of the verve and inter-weaving instrumentation of their source – particular pleasers include Ralph Stanley’s colorful title song, that showcases Windy Hill’s brother duet style, along with Frank Hutchison’s bluesy “Train That Carried My Girl From Town” and Albert Price’s “Little Girl And The Dreadful Snake,” that pays homage to the Father and King of bluegrass – Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin. The quartet break the spell, so to speak, with a “hidden track” at the CD’s close – a great, banjo-driven version of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ rhythm ‘n’ blues dance classic “Finger Poppin’ Time.” Not to be missed when they come your way.
— Gary von Tersch