Jeff White – Right Beside You
Veteran Nashville guitarist Jeff White has carved out a lasting reputation as one of country music’s best all-around talents, a first class guitarist, songwriter, and capable singer. The extent of his passions and personal skills found their fullest expression on his first two solo albums, 1996’s The White Album and its 1999 follow-up The Broken Road, but his third solo release Right Beside You is the fullest realization yet of his considerable talents. White is a virtuoso within the country and bluegrass realm, but there are inklings of greater talents peering from behind the curtain. His versatility is one of the album’s most remarkable features and often manifests itself in subtle ways. The album makes substantive use of many guest stars. Bekka Bramlett, Del McCoury, Alison Krauss, and Vince Gill are among the luminaries gracing the album with their presence. It’s an all-around stellar effort.
The earliest mark of its exceptional quality comes with one of White’s originals, the album’s second track “Blue Trail of Sorrow”. White comes up aces invoking a lot of the genre’s lyrical stock imagery, but his voice is a remarkably expressive instrument capable of investing even well-worn sentiments with new found vitality. His voice finds an excellent match on the song with Vince Gill’s tenor vocal. “Right Beside You” is another exceptional White-penned composition, co-authored with James Alan Bartram, with a layered musical approach and an upbeat, but never careening, tempo. Ronnie McCoury and Jerry Douglas make memorable contributions on mandolin and dobro respectively.
Jerry Douglas’ dobro makes a lasting impression on the hard-driving “The Cold Hard Facts”. It’s another example of familiar lyrical content earning a new spin thanks to White’s meaningful vocal approach. In his hands, this rumination on a failed love affair isn’t some cliché parade – instead, it feels torn straight from the pages of White’s everyday life. “Another Road” is another White co-write, this time with Bekka Bramlett and Tom Brit, and one of the album’s strongest songs. This plumbs much deeper than many of the earlier and later songs and gains added emotional depth thanks to a moving turn on harmony vocals from Bramlett. White’s penchant for obscure covers hits its zenith with the following Carter Family track, “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”, an A.P. Carter written gem that contains all the customary grit and reality one expects from the first family of country music. Vince Gill’s on point harmony vocals helps strengthen the old-timey feeling that White is clearly aiming for.
“Climbing Up a Mountain” is dominated by Michael Cleveland’s wonderful fiddle, but each musician contributes to the song’s bright sheen and effortless movement. The album’s final track is the traditional “Pretty Saro” and White is joined by noted Irish folk group The Chieftains along with his usual collaborators. It’s a wonderfully elegiac ending for an album that reflects and romps in equal measure. Right Beside You has been well worth the way. Jeff White’s playing and singing talents anchor everything quite well, but it’s the seamless blend of various influences and the album’s profoundly melodic base that stands out above all.
9 out of 10 stars.