Junior Sisk’s first solo album in a career that extends back well over 20 years may seem something of a milestone, but the fact is, Sisk has made an indelible impression in bluegrass realms ever since he first started writing music in the early ‘90s. He can number among his early accomplishments the songs that were written for Lonesome River Band, and his subsequent contributions to Rambler’s Choice, the band he founded in the late ‘90s and later reconvened after a brief stint with the group Lost and Found. Other collaborations occupied him at nearly the same time, but for the most part, Sisk has been known mainly as a contributor to the efforts of others, rather than a single man in the spotlight.
Still, it’s not that Sisk hasn’t reaped his rewards. Recognized by the IBMA in 2012 for Song of the Year for his composition, A Far Cry from Lester and Earl, and for Album of the Year for The Heart of a Song, recorded with Rambler’s Choice, he also won for Male Vocalist of the Year the year after. In 2016 he garnered recognition for Recorded Event of the Year thanks to the song Longneck Blues, a collaboration with Ronnie Bowman. That’s in addition to Rambler’s Choice’s 2013 win for Bluegrass Band of the Year, courtesy of the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America.
In a sense then, Brand New Shade of Blue is, understandably, a much anticipated undertaking, and while there’s no decisive change of tack, Sisk further affirms why he’s such an important player in an essential idiom. The music takes on an easy and effortless flow, and though it’s Sisk’s name alone on the marquee, the ensemble work is clear and cohesive throughout. That’s especially evident on those songs provided more uptempo pacing such as By Now I Would Be Dead, I Heard You Knocking, The Travelling Kind, and The Whisky & The Guitar. The picking and playing by Sisk and his colleagues — Mark Fain (bass), Ashby Frank (mandolin), Justin Moses (banjo) and Jason Carter (fiddle) — is assured and yet in sync, and no one individual threatens to steal the spotlight. Credit Thomm Jutz and Aaron Ramsey for a superb job of mixing the results and keeping it all effectively measured and maintained.
While some individual outings tend to find those new to the spotlight mistaking flash for finesse, Brand New Shade of Blue is admirable in the fact that both the offerings and the egos are firmly in check. The song Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That sums things up adeptly. Again, as always, Sisk finds the common bond between humility and integrity.
Brand New Shade of Blue is available from Mountain Fever Records.