David Royko Psy.D
(To read this review at the Bluegrass Unlimited website, click on the masthead above.)
For forty three years, Butch Waller has lead California-based High Country with blues-tinged mandolin picking and no-frills vocals, and Perfect Companions should appeal to fans of straight-up bluegrass grown directly from rich Monroe/Stanley/Flatt & Scruggs musical soil. Play it in mono on a lo-fi system and you might think it was recorded circa 1955.
The rest of the band—Larry Cohea (banjo), Jim Mintun (resonator guitar), Tom Bekeny (fiddle), Bob Waller (guitar), Glenn Dauphin (bass)—help Butch in confounding anyone asked to guess their geographic origin. The rhythm playing is solid, supporting soloing that is rhythmically sound with ideas that explore possibilities while never dipping a toe in newgrass waters. The repertoire mixes tried and true bluegrass and classic country with originals that are cut from the same cloth. The vocals, if not always tonally rich, tend toward the high-lonesome model, with pungent harmonies and duets performed with style and accuracy by Mintun, Dauphin, Butch, and Bob.
The two instrumentals encapsulate their approach. Butch Waller’s original “Butch’s Blues” finds the composer and the rest of the group paying tribute to Monroe, while the somewhat (and appropriately) fiddle-centric “Uncle Pen Medley” is even more explicitly Monroe-esque, combining three tunes from the classic instrumental Uncle Pen album, which (to put this band’s longevity in even greater perspective) was yet to be recorded at the time of High Country’s formation. (Butch Waller, P.O. Box 10414, Oakland, CA 94610.) DR [David Royko]