Appropriately entitled Authentic (REB-1867), bluegrass supergroup Band of Ruhks' sophomore release and first for Rebel Records is an album filled with nearly all originals, performed with sincerity and passion. The record (produced by Ben Isaacs) is a showcase of the band's love for traditional bluegrass while greeting the future with a sneaky grin.
Band of Ruhks is comprised of four bluegrass veterans and reunites Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby and Kenny Smith, while adding Brian Fesler to a unit that straddles the line between bluegrass favorite and roots music trailblazer with ease.
Ronnie Bowman (Rebel Records’ Cold Virginia Night) is one of bluegrass music’s most beloved vocalists of the past three decades (three-time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Yeart), and his songwriting is among the most revered in bluegrass and country music today (Brooks & Dunn’s “It’s Getting Better All the Time,” Kenny Chesney’s “Never Wanted Nothing More”, Chris Stapleton’s “Nobody to Blame”). Like a fine wine, his voice gets better with time. On Authentic, his smooth baritone sounds right at home on everything from the sweet (“Heartstrings”) to the sinister (“If You Wanna Know My Name”), showcasing why he is one of the most versatile bluegrass singers of his generation.
Don Rigsby (Rebel Records’ Hillbilly Heartache) has one of the “highest and lonesome-est” voices in bluegrass (both essential elements in the “high lonesome sound”). His resume includes stints with bluegrass legends like JD Crowe, Peter Rowan and The Bluegrass Cardinals as well as being a part of influential music from The Lonesome River Band, Longview and his own solo endeavors, all of which helped shape the sounds of traditional bluegrass in the 21st century. On Authentic, his voice feels right at home on the Reno & Smiley classic “There’s Another Baby Waiting for Me Down the Line” (one of the album’s two cover songs) as well as on new favorites such as “My Ol’ Tattoo,” “Detroit” and “Run Fanny Run,” the album’s debut single. If there is anyone who doesn’t believe Don Rigsby is still one of the most gifted singers in bluegrass, his performance on the Rigsby-composed, “Where I Belong” should remove any doubt.
Kenny Smith (of The Kenny & Amanda Smith Band) is an absolute guitar giant (two-time IBMA Guitar Player of the Year). His style is often imitated but never duplicated and helped shape the blueprint for bluegrass guitarists over the last 25 years. His work in expanding bluegrass guitar continues on Authentic. His fingers fly on the traditional toe-tapper “Charming Betsy” along with his own composition “B N Me” (the album’s lone instrumental), but his six-string helps anchor the band as it charts its course through bluegrass and beyond throughout the album.
Brian Fesler played banjo with The Lonesome River Band in the late 1980s, and even appeared on one of the band’s early albums (Rebel Records’ Saturday Night, Sunday Morning). His powerful right hand is a perfect fit for the Band of Ruhks, rounding out a veteran group whose passions are similar, but express themselves in diverse ways.
Collectively, these veteran musicians account for over a century’s worth of combined experience in music! The Band of Ruhks could be a case study of the old adage “the sum is greater than the parts.” The harmonies between Bowman, Rigsby and Smith are nothing short of remarkable. Just listen to new songs like “Julie,” “Cold Heart of Steel” and the album’s climactic closing masterpiece, “Good Spirit Here” (featuring The Isaacs). The musical chemistry between these four modern masters cannot be denied on Authentic.
Authenticity is a tricky thing to define these days. It is often subjective and open to debate. What is not debatable is that the love and passion for the music made by the Band of Ruhks shines through on every note of their new album. The album serves as a musical tapestry, showcasing where the band has been but, more importantly, what their original ideas for the future of bluegrass music are. This balance of tradition and innovation is part of what makes bluegrass so special and is at the center of what drives the Band of Ruhks. Highlighting that blending of ideas and passions is what makes Authentic, well, authentic. There could be no more appropriate name for the Band of Ruhks sophomore album.
This is the era of bluegrass supergroups, especially among outstanding artists older than fifty. The change in recent years has been to supergroups that are actual bands, not musicians assembled for one album or tour. Consisting of Ronnie Bowman, Don Rigsby, Kenny Smith, and Brian Fesler, augmented on Authentic by Ben Isaacs, Aubrey Haynie, and Rob Ickes, the Band of Ruhks again demonstrates why it ranks among the very finest purveyors of the traditionally influenced modern bluegrass so popular today. They apply their considerable talents to a wealth of excellent original songs - six of them by Bowman, Rigsby, and Billy Droze - three instrumentals, and one Reno & Smiley producing on one of 2019’s most successful albums." - Art Menius
2. My Ol' Tattoo
5. Charming Betsy
6. Where I Belong
7. B N Me
8. If You Wanna Know My Name
9. There's Another Baby Waiting for Me Down the Line
10. Run Fanny Run
11. Cold Heart of Steel
12. Good Spirit Here