Jeff White – Right Beside You
Right Beside You is a thirteen song release and veteran Nashville ace Jeff White’s first solo release since 1999’s The Broken Road. The sixteen years since that album emerged have not been idle. White has carved out an impressive reputation as a top flight accompanist and played alongside some of bluegrass and country music’s giants. White’s time gracing stages with the likes of Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, and The Chieftains has honed his skills as a performer and songwriter to a razor edge. The sharpness and clear artistic vision comes through in this recording. It’s a decidedly retro affair insofar that it works strictly within the confines of its chosen genre, but it’s never dated. White and the album’s numerous guest stars are fully engaged with the material.
It’s quickly apparent. The album’s first original composition, “Blue Trail of Sorrow”, traffics in many of the genre’s central tropes and explores themes forever common in popular music. White and his collaborators, however, express these familiar tropes with such fluid elegance that it’s well nigh impossible to remain unaffected by their evocative power. The instrumentation is customary. White’s bluegrass music is strained with light country influences, but it’s largely a lyrical blend of mandolin, banjo, and guitar. The arrangements are geared in such an urgent way that listeners will scarcely notice the absence of any percussion. The title song is a slightly more relaxed effort than the first two, but the same aforementioned blend of instrumentation propels it forward and White serves up one of the album’s best vocals.
Famed multi-instrumentalist Jerry Douglas joins White on another original composition, “The Cold Hard Facts”. Like much of the material on Right Beside You, “The Cold Hard Facts” embodies White’s no fuss approach to the material clocking in at a hair over two and a half minutes. Douglas’s incendiary dobro work inflames the song, but White offers an excellent vocal counterpoint. Vince Gill’s mandolin adds much to White’s cover of Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ This Lonesome Road”, but the true highlight might be White’s best vocal yet. His respectful, yet creative invocation of Monroe’s scarcely inimitable vocal style is quite memorable. “Another Road” is another White original and much more meditative in spirit than the album’s earlier tracks. This will likely be another favorite for many as the song seems ripped from the fabric of White’s life, yet he renders with exquisite sensitivity. It’s perhaps one of the album’s most lyrical moments, but White ventures a little outside bluegrass for this one with great success. Vince Gill’s mandolin playing returns again, but he likewise contributes harmony vocals alongside another of the album’s guest stars, renowned second-generation singer Bekka Bramlett.
White’s encyclopedic command of the genre comes to the fore again with his cover of Dock Boggs’ “Wise County Jail”. Jerry Douglas returns for another powerful performance on dobro while Vince Gill’s tenor vocal accompaniment aids White’s efforts to respectfully approximate Boggs’ original vocal. The album’s closer, “Pretty Saro”, is a traditional song featuring a final guest appearance from renowned folk group The Chieftains. Gill, Douglas, and Laura Weber Cash appear here as well. It’s a wonderful climax for Right Beside You.
9 out of 10 stars.