It Runs in the Family

He Leadeth Me (Independent)

The McKendrees

By Bob Mitchell

The nice thing about IBMA is that you meet plenty of nice people. While visiting the exhibit area last year, several members of a Kentucky band introduced themselves and gave me a copy of their latest recording, an all-bluegrass/gospel project. Their words indicated a commitment to traditional bluegrass and one listen confirmed their remarks.

The McKendrees, a family band based in Marshall County, Kentucky, began performing in 2000. Josh Williams (who is now with Rhonda Vincent) played fiddle on and produced the family's debut release, Travelin' Back. Jimmy VanCleve, fiddler extraordinaire who is now with Mountain Heart, fills the role on He Leadeth Me and Marty Raybon's liner notes say, "There is a wonderful spirit ... as they sing." Indeed, there is a wonderful spirit here.

Ricky (dad) plays rhythm guitar and sings some lead and lots of baritone harmony. Justin (the oldest son) contributes a steady mandolin chop and heartfelt lead vocals on most of the tracks. Jessalyn (youngest daughter), 22, adds sensitive lead and harmony vocals and counts Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless and Patsy Cline among her influences. Rounding out the band are 24-year-old Jason on banjo and rhythm guitar (and the bass part of the band's lush four-part harmonies) and "adopted family member" Ron Barnett on upright bass. The CD also contains a delightful unlisted bonus of two songs from the children at a very early age.

Another track, "Lord Let Me Be a Witness" contains an introduction from their grandmother. In addition, liner notes show a photograph of "Nanny" fronting the band with her guitar. He Leadeth Me is obviously a continuation of family musical traditions and an obvious extension of their spiritual beliefs. A couple of my favorite songs include "Just Let Me Fall," and "Lord I'm Ready To Go."

Indeed, Ricky McKendree raised his children with strong religious conviction and to love bluegrass music and his influences show. It was his musically talented mother, Elizabeth, a guitarist and songwriter, who led him to love music. She even occasionally sits in with the band, playing and singing her original tunes. The influence and family talent are on full display on He Leadeth Me.

If you would like to see and hear the McKendrees, they will be hosting the 2006 Kentucky Lake Bluegrass Festival in June.

For more information and more show dates, visit www.themckendrees.com.