On their last album, Gypsy Runaway Train, The Roys enlisted the help of two different bands. One half of the album featured seasoned bluegrass pros backing up the siblings on a set of originals, while the other included Lee and Elaine’s touring band picking some old bluegrass favorites. For their newest release (and fourth for Rural Rhythm), The View, The Roys mesh the two halves into one, offering fans an all-original record that utilizes their regular road band on every song. The result is a helping of something old combined with a little something new.
The View, like their previous albums, is filled with largely cheerful songs with a positive outlook. They still maintain the contemporary, country-tinged sound that their fans have come to love. In fact, they seem to lean a little closer to the country side of things here at times, featuring co-writes with the legendary Bill Anderson and up-and-coming vocalist and songwriter Josh Thompson. On several songs, Elaine’s vocals bear a resemblance to Dolly Parton, a country star who has flirted with bluegrass more than once.
One of the places that the Parton sound really comes out is on the lead single, No More Lonely. An upbeat number written by Elaine and Lee with Steve Dean, it finds the singer thanking her new love for bringing her out of a time of sadness and heartache. It’s bubbly and toe-tapping. Mended Wings is another co-write with Dean, and again is somewhat Parton-esque. It’s a country-style Gospel song, expressing the thought that even if we make mistakes, we still have the hope of heaven.
Heaven Needed Her More, written by Lee and Thompson, has a neotraditional country feel – heavy on fiddles, courtesy of Clint White. It’s a sweet song about mourning the loss of a loved one, but realizing that they will be better off in heaven. Sometimes is another song about loss, but through the onset of Alzheimer’s instead of death. It has a cheerful melody, with country-influenced rhythm guitar.
No More Tears Left to Cry is one of the most bluegrass-sounding songs on the album, steered along by former band member Daniel Patrick’s banjo. It has a harsher feel than many of the other tracks, although its message is fairly positive as the singer tells of letting go of her fears. Black Gold, another banjo-guided number, shares the story of a lifelong Kentucky miner while mashing together several bluegrass/Appalachian coal mining song tropes: digging “in the hole,” a mine collapse, and “dirty” coal. There’s even a reference to Shady Grove.
That song, along with The View (the co-write with Anderson, a soft, gentle “going home” song, filled with imagery of hills and valleys), are two of the only pieces here that contain standard bluegrass themes. The other is the album’s closing track, Mandolin Man. It seems that scarcely an album comes out these days without a tribute to Bill, Earl and Lester, or Carter and Ralph – some more well-written than others. As you might guess, this one goes out to Bill Monroe. It’s toe-tapping, and pretty traditional, and features guest vocals from another mandolin legend, Doyle Lawson. It’s not the freshest idea for a song – although I do like the description of Monroe’s playing as being like “hot grease poppin’ in a pan.”
On the surface, The Roys seem to be a long way from Bill Monroe, the man they say “made us wanna learn to play, made us wanna start a band.” Their music, both instrumentation and vocals, has a strong acoustic country flavor. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not talented. Both Lee and Elaine are fine vocalists, and the musicians (Elaine on guitar; Lee on mandolin, mandocello, and mandola; White on fiddle; Patrick on banjo and dobro; and Erik Alvar on bass) are obviously skilled. The View will likely ensure continued success for The Roys, particularly in acoustic country circles.
Lee and Elaine Roy are a brother- sister duo that largely features their considerable vocal and songwriting talents. Both have beautiful voices that enmesh nicely with each other. Elaine plays guitar and Lee plays mandolin and they are well-supported on this effort by Daniel Patrick on banjo and reso guitar, Clint White on fiddle and Erik Alvar on bass.
The View offers up eleven original cuts, including one instrumental, with the title cut sharing writing credit with longtime Country Music luminary, Bill Anderson. Their overall presentation on The View is well within the boundaries of what most would consider ‘Bluegrass,’ though they probably wouldn’t be characterized as “traditional” Bluegrass by most enthusiasts.
Elaine’s voice is ever-so-slightly salty, but gilded: smooth and clear with character and presence. She’s easy to listen to and well establishes her ability with fine lead-vocal work on the opening cut, No More Lonely, as well as on No More Tears (one of my favorites), Sometimes (a tribute to adults dealing with dementia-afflicted loved ones), Mended Wings and The View. The five remaining vocal cuts feature Lee Roy on lead vocals. His voice sounds like a male version of Elaine’s voice, and vice versa. I also occasionally noticed some similarity in Lee’s tone to that of Ricky Skaggs, such as on Live the Life You Love, which also happens to be one of my personal favorites. Lee also shares lead vocals with Doyle Lawson on Mandolin Man, which is a tribute to Bill Monroe.
Instrumentally, good taste prevails, yet each lead-instrument is able to retain an element of artistic identity and sparkle. Each of the lead-musicians is able to establish a bit of their personality within their solos and, often, during their ‘fills’ behind the vocalists. As much as over-playing is passe in today’s professional Bluegrass climate, there are no violations on this CD. However, the upbeat, No More Tears, offers the listener an opportunity to hear Daniel Patrick stretch-out on fiddle and all three lead players show their chops on the mandolin-led instrumental, Northern Skies.
I found The Roy’s use of multiple fiddles on Heaven Needed Her More is especially enjoyable—reminiscent of Bill Monroe’s use of twin and triple fiddles on some of his recordings during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It’s a sound that, in the opinion of this humble reviewer, is used far too infrequently in the stylings of the modern Bluegrass community.
The overall production is nothing less than stellar, with a very balanced sound and superb mixing and editing, though I might have insisted on slightly more bass and rhythm guitar presence on some of the pieces, but it sounds great. There’s little of the tonal overhang present in lesser- quality recordings by other artists and one feels as though they are listening from a small, quiet, acoustic studio. Throughout The View, Lee and Elaine’s vocals blend beautifully and along with their keen ability to choose and write well-suited material and to design and musically articulate tasteful, thoughtful arrangements, The View is a musical treasure not to be missed.