Archived Arts & Entertainment

Laying down the Lawson

By Chris Cooper

Fusing soaring gospel harmony with finely tuned bluegrass firepower, Doyle Lawson has forged an easily recognizable and smoothly accessible sound over all these years. On his most recent Rounder records release he and his band display an effortless command of the music, all the while sounding as fresh and vital as any of the many “up and coming” groups.


And while it can’t hurt to have a bandleader with more than 40 years of experience, More Behind The Picture Than The Wall easily earns the tag of “contemporary” in regard to its lush production and forward thinking song choices, indicating that Lawson is anything but stuck in the throes of being a staunch traditionalist.

Lawson has long demonstrated a knack for surrounding himself with brilliant musicians (Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Mike Auldridge and Ricky Skaggs have all been among the ranks at some point) and his current lineup doesn’t deviate at all from this track record. The amazing vocals of Jamie Dailey leads the barnstorming “Sadie’s Got Her New Dress On,” a tune chock full of tasty picking from everybody in the group.

But my money’s on the next track, a heart-rending bit of country storytelling entitled “The Phone Call” for sheer emotional sucker-punch power. Lawson’s burnished vocal carries this one, surrounded by gorgeous and perfectly placed harmony from his band mates. Eschewing up-tempo bluegrass fireworks for thoughtful balladry so early on in an album can sometimes hurt the flow of things, but this tune’s so strong it’s not even an issue.

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More Behind The Picture Than The Wall leans more towards the secular side of things than some of Lawson’s recent work, with many songs dealing in basic human themes of forgiveness, relationships and the passing of time. Of course, you can’t have a bluegrass album without at least one instrumental extravaganza, and here the band charges headlong through “Tulsa Turn-A-Round,” packing the tune’s mere 2:04 running time with enough nimble fretwork to choke a horse.

But once they hit the mournful “Whatever Happened To Us?” it’s back to ballad city, and one can’t help but notice a theme to the rest of the CD, with song titles like “When The Blues Are Moving In,” “Oceans Of Teardrops” and “Can You Hear Me Now,” a kind of “told you so” penned by a woman’s former flame to remind her of just how poorly she chose in the long run. The latter gets two treatments here, one with full “modern” production, and another that’s been tossed in the wayback machine, complete with simulated pops, clicks and other sonic foibles that effectively simulates the less than pristine recording quality of many early bluegrass and country classics, notably the newly re-released JD Crowe gem Bluegrass Holiday, which also just happened to be Lawson’s recording debut.

Spring’s not only the time when flowers bloom and bees begin their buzzing, it’s also the start of a busy bluegrass festival season and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver will either be hosting or performing at many of them. Lawson’s own 27th annual shindig kicks off in Denton, N.C., May 10-12. The group will appear in Cherokee twice in the coming months for the NC State Bluegrass Festival and the Cherokee Bluegrass Festival, which means you really don’t have any excuse for missing out on experiencing this fine group of musicians up close and personal.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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