Prime Cuts: Everything that Glitters (Is Not Gold), Chasing Someone Else's Dreams, The Future's Not What It Used to Be
Listening to Balsam Range's "Five" is like looking into the mirror into our very own souls. These are more than just songs. Rather, they are three-dimensional tales lifted out of our own diaries donned in characters and events we have had affinity with. Whether it's the search for meaning in our jobs ("Chasing Someone Else's Dreams") or the lure of greater prosperity ("Everything that Glitters (Is Not Gold)") or our struggle with sins and failures ("Moon Over Memphis") or our struggle with life's brevity ("Songs I've Sung"), these are our stories made melodious and palatable through these 12 offerings. Nevertheless, before we delve into these songs, we shouldn't let the titular subtlety "Five" escape us. Not only is "Five" indicative that this is the fifth release by Balsam Range, it also is a reference to the five members of the group. They comprise of Buddy Melton (fiddle player and lead singer), Tim Surrett (bassist, vocalist, and resonator guitar player), Marc Pruett (banjo), Caleb Smith (guitar player and vocalist) and Darren Nicholson (mandolin player and vocalist).
"Five" is the much anticipated follow-up to last year's IBMA Album of the Year "Papertown." Just like "Papertown," "Five" is rifled with great proverbial tales about life and living. Country artist Dan Seals' number 1 record "Everything that Glitters (is Not Gold)" sets the proverbial path for the songs to follow. Adorned with a more acoustic feel with more prominent banjos than the original, this absolute tuneful gem is reminds us that we shouldn't just view the exterior when it comes to life. Certainly many of the songs follow such a wizened trajectory. Those of us who have to fight the morning rush to get to work and never leave the office until the sky is pitch dark will resonate with "Chasing Someone Else's Dreams." On a similar theme, though less poignant and less memorable, is "Monday Blues."
Balsam Range dives in for some cathartic moments with the Rebecca Peck-penned "From a Georgia Battlefield." This is a chilling tale about the last few moments of a dying soldier sending word back to his mother that he's died "a brave young man." The line about how the dying lad recalls opening his Bible to find a lock of hair from his finance is just merciless on the heart. Mickey Newbury, who has been known for writing his share of forlorn tunes, continues to massage our hearts with "The Future's Not What It Used to Be." The charm of the song lies in the cyclical turn of events about a man's descent into heartbreak before picking himself up again. But the story closes full circle with his former paramour returning. Now what will he do after all these years of living in brokenness? Will he take her back? You've got to listen to this gem to find out.
Those who are looking for a spiritual uplift will be encouraged by "Stacking Up the Rocks." Guided by finger snaps and an a capella of voices "Stacking Up the Rocks" details the Biblical story of how Joshua led the Israelites out of River Jordan with the people stacking up rocks in memorial to God's sovereign power. And most intriguing among the song choices is the Balsam Range's bluegrass take of John Denver's "Matthew." "Matthew" is a powerful testimony of how a man brave the twisters of 1947, lost every earthy possession, and still be able to find joy in the God he loves. In sum, "Five' is more than just a stringing together of random songs. These are the life stories of people just like you and me. Though many of these characters are flaw just as we are, Balsam Range in their indelible wisdom also points us to how they survived and looked to God in such trying times.