Michael & Jennifer McLain – Hit the Road and Go
Hit the Road and Go, the debut release from the duo of Michael and Jennifer McLain, features a dozen songs pulled from some of the usual suspects, but also some instrumentals, surprises, and lesser known tracks from this style in traditional Americana. Decades of experience playing and teaching music at a variety of levels ensures that Hit the Road and Go is a completely professional and thoroughly artistic experience capable of entertaining longtime fans of the genre and newcomers alike. Casual listeners will, also, find something here for them. Hit the Road and Go is spotlessly produced and utterly accessible to its intended audience from the first note to last. It also varies the tempo enough to keep listener’s on the edge of their seats and contains an abundance of instrumental fireworks for those interested in bluegrass music’s traditional interplay.
“This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” is textbook bluegrass, page one, and delivered with the gusto that defines the best the genre has to offer. The various string instruments weave together without a single discernible bum note and, tied together, achieves a greater, much larger sound than they are capable of otherwise generating, “Restless” finds them branching off into slightly surprising territory with a Carl Perkins cover, but they stake out new territory by inventively remodeling Perkins’ rockabilly style for their purposes. McLain manifests enough bite in her voice to make the lyrical content plausible and the added backing vocals, like elsewhere on Hit the Road and Go, are expertly handled without ever announcing themselves too loudly. Their cover of Albert E. Brumley’s “Jesus, Hold My Hand” is the latest revamping of this classic gospel track. It isn’t the first bluegrass version, by far, but the McLains put their stamp on the song thanks to the generous guitar work and their penchant for sweetening things with excellent vocal melodies and harmony work.
Michael McLain takes his sole lead vocal on the album with the cover of Doc and Merle Watson’s “Southbound”. His voice has just enough muscularity and grit to make this convincing vocally, but instrumentally is where it shines brightest. One of the album’s two instrumentals, “Mcintosh” has propulsive forward movement and a lot of energy while still retaining some melodic delicacy. They cover Johnny Cash for the album’s title song and it remains a recognizable Cash track throughout its entirety, but the McLains do a great job of infusing this with a bluegrass character and their own personalities. “Boom Town” is the album’s sole original, co-written by Jennifer McLain, and it’s a glimpse of our modern world set to traditional musical structures. It succeeds because its such a successful blend.
The McLains end Hit the Road and Go with the classic spiritual “I’m Ready To Go Home”. It’s one of the album’s best performances thanks to the complete understanding of the song’s emotional weather that they demonstrate and they really do an exceptional job of capturing what the feeling of inviting death with the faith in a better afterlife must look and sound like. It’s a fitting conclusion for a release steeped in tradition, but there’s enough of the McLains here and elsewhere through Hit the Road and Go to remind us that this isn’t a tribute album, but rather bluegrass is the vehicle through which the McLains express themselves.
9 out of 10 stars