Sitting in the middle of the dusty road where old timey meets new old-timey, Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops sound like they'd be equally at home on the front porch or in a smoky club. The arrangements, instrumentation and overall sound on Rivers Roll On By (their third CD) are staunchly traditional, while their flat-out energy and attitude nod at more contemporary influences. But there's nothing even remotely modern here: This is strictly banjo/fiddle/mandolin/stand-up bass and acoustic guitar material. Rather, the eight original songs and five older songs here speak to the timeless tradition of insurgent American music, from its roots in the fog of modern history to the full-throttle squall of today. The key connective tissue is the emotive power with which the material is delivered.
And, oh boy, can they play and emote. Various combinations of Pinetops nimbly race, strum and surge through the songs, while Jim and Jennie sing with lovely, plaintive intertwining or solo voices. The loser's lament "Blackie Moore," the gently rocking "Hannah's Song," the mournful vocal number "I Know You're Married" and the cosmic bluegrass "Stars Fall" really stand out. The traditional themes of heartbreak, betrayal, crushing work and redemption sit next to looser, more-playful numbers like the knee-slapping "Quit Barking at Me."
Jim and Jennie may be serious about their roots, but they never forget to have a good time.