Husband and wife duos aren’t common in popular music as a whole, let alone Americana or bluegrass, but don’t let that sway you. Hit the Road and Go isn’t a touchy feely collection of a dozen love songs but, instead, a mini-compendium of the genre’s best tunes coupled with some lesser known songs, a couple of instrumentals, and one original track. Its chief distinguishing feature is virtuosity. Given their long history as players and composers, it is no shock they have an astute enough ear to identify other collaborators capable of helping them fulfill their musical vision. Dan Kelly, a superb fiddle player with an impeccable pedigree including stints with everyone from Roy Acuff to Faith Hill, joins them on a number of cuts.
The McLains are top notch players themselves, but never self-indulgent. Instead, their facility fills the dozen songs on their debut with melodic excellence and remarkable energy. Vocalist Jennifer McLain handles the lion’s share of vocal duties and her voice does a fantastic and deeply felt job of exploring a variety of emotions and stances throughout this release. The long experience both husband and wife have in the music industry further ensures that this is an immaculately produced outing that presents their overall talents in most compelling fashion possible.
“This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” sends the album shooting off into the atmosphere. There’s, naturally, a great deal of timing and years of playing that goes into making music this challenging sound so effortless, but the McLains have mastered their art. There’s bright, optimistic melodies woven throughout this song and the mix of instruments work in perfect sympathy with one another. “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” is a little closer to traditional country balladry than what you might expect, but it retains enough of the duo’s guiding musical spirit to sound consistent alongside the other tracks. McLain turns in a lovingly wrought vocal on this song. “Jesus, Hold My Hand” is a classic of the genre, performed by innumerable recording artists, but the McLain own this with their unique blend of delicacy and virtuosity. The genuine feeling underlying this song clearly emerges. There’s a great universality in the song “Up This Hill and Down” that will appeal to a wide audience without ever cheaply coming by its effects. Jennifer McLain’s singing is perfectly tailored for the lyric and she gently embodies the weariness of the lyric. It’s a realistic narrative and well written. The title song is a Johnny Cash penned number that, like the duo’s earlier stab at covering Carl Perkins, contains whiffs of the original spirit while still sounding very much part and parcel of the duo’s creative vision. The added, understated bite the song gains from suggesting some qualities of its author while still displaying all the characteristics common to the duo’s musical sound makes it quite a unique number. “Boom Town” is a thoughtful, singer/songwriter slanted track with strong details and a solid, well-constructed musical arrangement. Hit the Road and Go ends with another traditional spiritual from the gospel tradition, “I’m Ready To Go Home”. It has all of the complicated, but unquestionably sincere joy implied by the title and lyric and ends the album on a decidedly upbeat note.
This is a classy, top shelf professional release from two supreme stylists in the genre.
Michael Saulman - December 13, 2016
A new project from bluegrass power couple showcases their talented 4 piece Bluegrass Band on newest project. Known for various appearances in shows for artists as diverse as Vince Gill, Claire Lynch Band, Roy Acuff, Faith Hill, and Alan Jackson along with appearances at venues like Arrington Vineyards, Grand Ole Opry and NPR, to name a few, the diverse talent in Michael and Jennifer McLain’s band helps the duo craft the simply fantastic Hit the Road and Go album.
“This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” gets Hit the Road and Go going and sets the pace for the twelve spirited songs of roots-y love songs and spirited Gospel and instrumental numbers. Jennifer McLain has a beautiful voice and showcases it on the heartbreaking ballad “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” and Gospel standard “Jesus, Hold My Hand.” “Up The Hill And Down” is spirited bluesy ‘grass and the instrumental “McIntosh” is just downright moving in its display of the band’s prolific talent. The title tune, "Hit the Road and Go" showcases even more of the band's talent with Bluegrass themes in the lyrics and their expert musicality with the melody.
Hit the Road and Go may just be the perfect Bluegrass album. It blends everything a listener loves about the genre. It’s both expanding on the roots defined by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys decades ago and also showcases where Bluegrass can go in the 21st century.
Matt Bjorke - December 9, 2016
Indie Music Previews
The long tradition of bluegrass, one of the most popular sub-genres of an overarching Americana musical school, remains alive and well on albums like this. This and classic country formed one of the earliest bonds between the husband and wife duo of Michael and Jennifer McLain, but they came by the bond honestly. Both of them were raised in musical families and Michael has been playing for public audiences since his youth as a member of The McLain Family Band. Jennifer, on the other hands, has shared stages and recording time with some of the biggest names in country and bluegrass music. She’s garnered reams of praise as one of the most affecting vocalists working today and her voice dominates the twelve songs on the husband and wife’s first full length release under their own banner, Hit The Road and Go. The song selection incorporates fine tracks from lesser known songwriters, a couple of classical spirituals in the bluegrass world, an original composition from Jennifer McLain, and a surprising cover song.
The album’s opener “This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” has the sort of feistiness listeners will expect from a song about being disappointed in love and marshals those emotions to a lively tempo and kinetic instrumental exchanges between the fiddle, acoustic guitar, and mandolin. Banjo plays a crucial role on many album tracks, but its influence here is muted some. The dominant instrument on this track is violin and it streaks over the top with colorful flair. The ballad “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” brings out the guitar more and the fluent melodic runs unfurling from the six string, but it’s never overcooked. Instead, the artistry they are capable of manifesting reaches one of its zeniths with this song. Hearing a bluegrass duo who’s willing to tackle songs from the late great Carl Perkins is a little surprising, but the more surprising fact is that the McLain’s cover of “Restless” is so good it makes you forget, a little at least, that Perkins’ version even exists. Conjuring that rockabilly spirit in this setting is no small feat, but they do it with considerable panache and a lively sense of playfulness. “Jesus, Hold My Hand” is a familiar song to anyone who’s a devoted fan of the genre and has seen numerous covers over the years in a variety of styles. It sounds a little safer than it should here, but it’s wholly consistent with the musical mood dominating much of the album. Jennifer McLain’s voice does a particularly good job of conveying her longing for the restorative influence of God in her life.
The title song is a cover of a lesser known Johnny Cash song and it’s quite possible to still hear the rockabilly/country roots peering throughout their solidly bluegrass treatment. The duo has a wont for relying a little more heavily on acoustic guitar than most bluegrass albums do and this song is no different, but rather than pulling them away from their roots, the added influence of acoustic guitar merely helps to distinguish their material from the typical. One of the album’s two instrumentals, “Lady of Spain” is the album’s penultimate song and a jazzy bluegrass track that rushes past the listener without sacrificing any of its style or nuance. The last track is particularly affecting – “I’m Ready to Go Home” brings Hit the Road and Go to a very considered and beautiful conclusion.
The dozen songs on this album reaffirm the traditional values of this music while providing listeners with a revealing glimpse of the performers behind the songs. It’s an all around winner.
Scott Wigley - December 15, 2016