Georgia’s Edgar Loudermilk has the abiding spirit of bluegrass music flowing through his veins. The new single from The Edgar Loudermilk Band entitled “The Banks of the River” recalls the genre’s radiant past while planting a flag firmly in the present. Loudermilk and his band’s ability to balance a modern perspective with continuing faith in the genre’s foundational strengths sets them apart from the pack and helps make “The Banks of the River” a near-embodiment of the form’s lasting potential.
The solid structure of the songwriting supplies us with plenty of evidence for Loudermilk’s talents. He’s honed his craft as both a player and songwriter since youth and as steeped in the music’s traditions as he is, it informs every note of “The Banks of the River”. Home truths and familiar imagery abound while his individuality comes through in every line as well. This isn’t simply a workmanlike performance regurgitating what he’s heard from his betters but instead advances the style into the present and beyond for anyone who cares to listen.
Loudermilk has an emotive voice that elevates the lyric and illustrates an undeniable skill for singing in a bluegrass context. No one will confuse him with Pavarotti, but that’s not what this music is about. The loving manner of his phrasing, his keen ear for timing, and the attention he shows for dovetailing his singing into the instrumental arrangement help make this track a memorable experience.
The aforementioned instrumentation contributes to that as well. There are no extended instrumental breaks, though guitarist Jamey Pittman gets a chance to shine near the song’s conclusion. Banjo player Anthony Howell and Loudermilk’s bass playing are integral cogs in the song’s machinery and the song’s co-write Zack Autry provides crucial secondary vocals alongside his mandolin playing.
It hits just the right spot for me. I appreciate the careful balance of soul and control that defines the song from the start and the uniformity of its excellence is a rarity outside of the genre. The production is every bit as stripped down as the performance itself; there’s no need for any sort of tinsel or other distractions because the music stands on its own. It checks off all the boxes.
It should do so even for those unfamiliar with bluegrass music. If you haven’t ever really delved into the genre but are interested, The Edgar Loudermilk Band is a first-rate place to start. This is accessible music that purists and casual fans alike can get behind. “The Banks of the River” has an eminently relatable lyrical slant rather than sounding disconnected from the audience’s experiences and the personal touch present throughout the song has a disarming effect on the listener.
Let’s hope that this unit continues to make music for many years to come. Loudermilk strikes me as the sort who will play until he takes his last breath even if he never recorded another note. He’s surrounded himself with like-minded collaborators in that vein and their combined talents help make this one of the new year’s more enjoyable listening experiences.