Bluegrass in tie and tails

Renaissance (Independent)

Storefront Congregation

By Paul Moffett

I confess; after I went to the CD release bash for this CD and got my own copy, it went up on the changer, where it has remained for several weeks now. However, that's not the only reason I'd recommend it: it's also an excellent example of real fine Louisville bluegrass, so full of high points that it would require a surveyor's transit and crew to measure them all.

Storefront Congregation is resonator guitar-builder Ivan Guernsey and his wife Lauren, plus banjo/mandolinist Murrell Thixton and guitarist Kent Houchin. All are rooted in the Kentucky/Southern Indiana/Louisville area and share membership, at one time or the other, in one of Louisville's other premier bluegrass ensembles, New Horizon, which puts the stamp of bluegrass approval on each of them as a strong player.

While this project evokes any number of Louisville bluegrass memories, including the Bardstown Road room where Sam Bush came to jam as a teenager, it's anything but backward-looking. Crisp as a freshly ironed white shirt and tight as miser's grip on a dollar, Storefront Congregation serves up a baker's dozen tunes, which range from Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" to "Ready For the Times To Get Better," which was a number one hit for Crystal Gayle in 1979, to Cheryl Wheeler's "Summerfly," plus several well-written original songs. Of these, the stand-outs are Houchin's "No Can Do" and Thixton's paean to country living, "Old Dirt Road."

Bassist Lauren Guernsey is blessed with a voice that fits the range of emotions called for in the best bluegrass; she can get that high, lonesome sound that Monroe defined and yet still reach down and find some vocal gravel when need be, sometimes in the same tune. That tune is "You Are Gone," in which her voice (and the harmonies) behind it raises goosebumps on my arms.

No bluegrass album would be complete without some technical flash and that comes from Guerney's "Yellow Jacket," a 2:48 tune written around the resonator (commonly referred to as a Dobro) but which is features some mandolin wizardry from Thixton and a bit of `right there' guitar picking from Houchin.

The project ends with another Ivan Guernsey tune, "Whatcha' Gonna Do," which is the de rigueur gospel tune. It features a bit of those good old-time gospel harmonies; it'd work just fine in church, thank you very much.

Renaissance was recorded, mixed and mastered by Mark Goodman done in Hodgenville, who seems to have gotten a solid handle on bluegrass. Watch out, Vince.