Great Picking, Great Melodies

Walking Down the Line (Sheltone Records)
James Alan Shelton

By Bob Mitchell

James Alan Shelton's ninth solo recording, another enjoyable project, showcases phenomenal guitar picking from the man who's played lead guitar with Ralph Stanley for 13 years. You already know it's got to be good, but let me tell you about it anyway.

Shelton's melody-oriented style of playing equates to simple elegance. His musicianship is dazzling especially on an exquisite "Fair and Tender Ladies," Roger Miller's gentle "Old Toy Train," Tony Ellis' lovely "Stephen" (on which Shelton plays lead guitar and banjo) and the always popular, "Salt Creek." The biggest and most pleasant surprise is Shelton's singing debut. He could not have chosen a more beautiful voice with whom to partner, Judy Marshall, acclaimed gospel and bluegrass vocalist. Their versions of Stephen Foster's wistful lament, "Hard Times Come Again No More," and the heartrending "Motherless Child," are stunning.

This phenomenal compilation of classic melodies features a few of Shelton's friends in a pleasing assortment of 13 folk, bluegrass and country songs. Included in his all-star lineup are bassist Barry Bales (Alison Krauss and Union Station), mandolinist Adam Steffey (Mountain Heart), Steve Sparkman (Clinch Mountain Boy and absolute master of Stanley-Style banjo), Dewey Brown (Clinch Mountain Boy and fiddler extraordinaire), Audey Ratliff (rhythm guitar and mandolin-maker) and Daniel Grindstaff (traditional-style banjoist with Jesse McReynolds).

Other musical highlights include the title cut (a Bob Dylan classic), "Methodist Preacher" (from Bill Monroe archives) and "Nashville Blues." Shelton also wrote the generous liner notes, which describe the backgrounds of the songs and players in rich and personal detail.

For more information go to