In their self-titled debut album, The Skylighters succeed in blowing some decidedly fresh air into some musical areas that desperately need it. That’s not to make disparaging comments about commercial country music, but it has become about as stale and sterile as it’s possible to get, where individualism is avoided. If I were conspiracy minded, it almost seems as if some secret medical facility in Nashville (maybe in a hidden basement at Vanderbilt University Medical Center?) is churning out singing clones for the big name record labels. But if you are tired of that sound and you long for unique voices and performances within the country genre, then The Skylighters will satisfy your cravings. While their music references older musical styles and genres, they manage to make it sound brand new and original. You could classify this band as alt-country, but that’s far too simplistic and limited. They combine aspects of classic country, swing, roots rock, rockabilly, bluegrass, and even jazz to create a new amalgamation.
The core of The Skylighters is made up of another Nashville band called Last Train Home, an award-winning roots rock band with its own recipe of eclectic tastes, from pop to punk. Eric Brace (lead vocals and acoustic guitar), Jim Carson Gray (bass guitar), and Martin Lynds (drums) formed the part-time band in Washington, D.C., but later they all went full-time and moved to Nashville, where they have become a favorite band in a town packed with first-rate musical talent. After recording six albums, and showing no sign of stopping, they started jamming with Mike Auldridge and Jimmy Gaudreau, long-time stars of bluegrass music. This configuration became known as The Skylighters, downplaying the rock influences and focusing on the country.
Eric Brace handles most of the lead vocals, his voice combining the worn resonant baritone of Waylon Jennings with the lyrical phrasing of Gordon Lightfoot, while at the same managing to sound completely original—not an easy or simple accomplishment. Brace has one of those voices that I just cannot get tired of. Jimmy Gaudreau (a legendary bluegrass mandolinist from groups like the Country Gentlemen, JD Crowe and the New South, and the Tony Rice Unit), steps in with his sweet and breathy tenor on several tracks, like the wonderful Louvin brothers tune, “Dear One.” Gaudreau also contributes some spot-on mandolin solos, of course. He’s always facile and so lyrical, never sacrificing tone for pyrotechnics, while not shying way from technical displays. Probably my favorite soloist on the album is Mike Auldridge, a master Dobro and pedal steel guitar player. Track after track he practically steals the show with flawless runs and cascades of notes, always in touch with the soul of the music. This is music for musicians and those who appreciate the highest levels of performance. Highly recommended.
TrackList: See What Love Can Do, My Baby’s Gone, Close the Door Lightly, Last Train From Poor Valley, Bonaparte’s Retreat, Nevertheless, Are You Missing Me, Maybe Tomorrow, Dear One, Carolina Star, Are You Wasting My Time, Guess My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own, I Wish You Knew, Going Up Home to Live in Green Pastures
– Hermon Joyner