On 'Jubilation,' bluegrass veterans Appalachian Road Show revel in timeless sounds

Appalachian Road Show's sound lies somewhere at the nexus of folk music's traditional Irish roots, the genesis of American popular music at Appalachian barn dances, and the Grand Ole Opry's birth in 1925.

However, a 1992-recorded clip on Youtube shows fiddle player and Appalachian Road Show band member Jim VanCleve playing Bob Willis' Western swing songs at the Old Fiddler's Convention in Virginia.

Somewhere between these two seemingly disparate points lies an evolution that has – via two International Bluegrass Music Association awards, plus co-signs from artists including Dolly Parton, fiddle player Jenee Fleenor, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs and Old Crow Medicine Show's Mason Via – brought the 3-year-old band of veteran players' sound critical acclaim.

"For a century, humans have loved to dance and hear music," VanCleve told The Tennessean.

Two years have passed since group released "Tribulation." And their latest, "Jubilation," was released on Oct. 7. The latter album title was chosen to reflect post-COVID-19 quarantine joy and what VanCleve refers to as the "natural human urge to [rediscover] light via songs that celebrate the human spirit."

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Releases like Grammy-winner Billy Strings' "Renewal" and Americana Music Association Breakout Artist of the Year Sierra Ferrell's "Long Time Coming" are bluegrass-influenced mainstream crossover standouts. Thus, "Jubilation" – with its introductory track featuring quintessential Appalachian and Pigeon Forge-native Parton – deserves consideration in the same vein amid a "bluegrass moment" of sorts.

"I am very proud and honored to even know such a wonderful group as the Appalachian Road Show," Parton says. "They’re wonderful singers, wonderful musicians, and above all that, wonderful human beings."

Parton included them this year on the soundtrack album for her novel "Run, Rose, Run," a collaboration with James Patterson. "I hope to do more with them in the future," she says.

Inspirations for "Jubilation" include two centuries of diverse sounds from America's post-Civil War and barn dance eras as well as from Bob Dylan, bluegrass icons Foggy Mountain Boys, Led Zeppelin and eight-string fiddle pioneer Benny Martin. Also, a focus on the faith and religiosity required to endure a century of dark winters, hunger, floods and fires, while retaining pride in their regional roots, is a victory of the release.

"All of our music has been cool all along, and it's always fun whenever folks figure that out again," jokes VanCleve, citing the 2000 release of the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack as the last era where country and folk's traditions surged in popularity.

He believes that post-COVID reinvigoration for simple pleasures is playing a small role in Appalachian Road Show's live concerts breaking attendance and sales records.

He sums up the appeal.

"As much as it's that – and that it's good – it's that this music is authentic that is pushing it ahead," he says. "Authenticity never goes out of style."

"Blue Ridge Mountain Baby" is the album's lead single. For the band's mandolinist Darrell Webb, the track's loping bluegrass rhythm, plus VanCleve and banjo picker Barry Abernathy's joyous lyrics – "When the moon shines bright on the Blue Ridge at night, and our little cabin in the pines / She's My Blue Ridge Mountain baby. Heaven knows I'm glad she's mine" – recalls the late 1940s work of icons Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.

The album in full is meant to be "heard, felt, and able to fill the listener with positivity through [its] non-homogenized personality and character," VanCleve says. "This is an unpolished, traditional alternative that discerning, knowledgeable music fans can enjoy."

VanCleve loves everything about the current moment that bluegrass music appears to be having and believes that the classic notion of "a rising tide that lifts all ships" is appropriate to ascribe to it.

"We're all winning awards and selling out shows and our profiles are growing," he says. "Plus, it feels like people are getting invested in watching this all advance."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Appalachian Road Show collaborates with Dolly Parton on 'Jubilation'