10 Songs, 41 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Calling Blue Skies a bluegrass album is like focusing on a single color in a rainbow. The style informs everything Mountain Heart do, but they’re just as likely to dig into blues (“Miss Me When I’m Gone”) or soul-inflected Southern rock (the title track). Ironically, the closest they come to straight-up bluegrass is on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” but the hard-charging instrumental “The Bad Grounds” shows that Mountain Heart are sporting some serious picking chops; just don’t expect them to stay in one place too long.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Calling Blue Skies a bluegrass album is like focusing on a single color in a rainbow. The style informs everything Mountain Heart do, but they’re just as likely to dig into blues (“Miss Me When I’m Gone”) or soul-inflected Southern rock (the title track). Ironically, the closest they come to straight-up bluegrass is on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” but the hard-charging instrumental “The Bad Grounds” shows that Mountain Heart are sporting some serious picking chops; just don’t expect them to stay in one place too long.

TITLE TIME

About Mountain Heart

One of the most celebrated acoustic acts of the new millennium, Mountain Heart began as a traditional bluegrass band that performed both secular and spiritual material, winning acclaim for early albums such as 2001's The Journey and 2004's Force of Nature. As their membership shifted, they began displaying a more eclectic spirit on the 2007 live release The Road That Never Ends, and with 2010's That Just Happened, the group started mixing in elements of improvisational rock, progressive country, blues, and jazz, even adding drums on some tunes. Released in 2018, Soul Searching found them including keyboards in their arrangements, and adding flavors of funk and R&B to their mix.

Mountain Heart were formed in 1998 by three veterans of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver -- Jim VanCleve on fiddle, Steve Gulley on vocals and guitar, and Barry Abernathy on banjo -- along with Adam Steffey on mandolin and Johnny Dowdle on bass. The group released its self-titled debut album on Doobie Shea Records in 1999, and a second set, The Journey, appeared in 2001. By that time, Jason Moore had replaced Dowdle on bass, and Mountain Heart jumped to Skaggs Family Records for their third album, 2002's No Other Way. No Other Way earned Mountain Heart Album of the Year and Entertainer of the Year nominations from the International Bluegrass Music Association, and 2004's Force of Nature was also shortlisted by the IBMA; the latter album also introduced guitarist Clay Jones, who joined the group in 2003.

The 2006 album Wide Open found Mountain Heart moving further away from traditional bluegrass into new territory, and the group began making a number of personnel changes over the next few years. Steve Gulley stepped down as vocalist and Josh Shilling joined in his place, while Clay Jones departed the lineup as Clay Hess took over on guitar, and Aaron Ramsey took over on mandolin after Adam Steffey moved on. In 2007, the band issued a live album, The Road That Never Ends, recorded during an appearance at the well-respected folk venue the Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The live disc was released by Rural Rhythm Records, but 2010's That Just Happened saw Mountain Heart taking control of their recordings by launching their own label, MH Music Group.

By the time the band returned to the studio for its next album, the lineup had been revamped yet again, with Josh Shilling on vocals, guitar, and keyboards; Aaron Ramsey on banjo, guitar, and mandolin; Seth Taylor on guitar; Jeff Partin on guitar, Dobro, and bass; and Molly Cherryholmes on violin and keyboards. This edition of Mountain Heart released a studio album, Blue Skies, on May 6, 2016 via Compass Records. The group teamed with Compass again for 2018's Soul Searching, a concept album dealing with spiritual and philosophical pursuits. The sessions found Mountain Heart pared back to a quartet following the departure of Cherryholmes. ~ Mark Deming

GENRE
Country
FORMED
1998

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