Lonesome River Band Announces New Album, ‘Singing Up There: A Tribute to the Easter Brothers’

June 23, 2021

Bluegrass songs about bluegrass seem to be turning up everywhere these days, but while there are plenty of single songs name-checking the music’s pioneers and all-star collaborative albums honoring generational legacies, a full-length tribute by one working band honoring another working band from days gone by is still a rarity. That makes Singing Up There: A Tribute to the Easter Brothers, the new album from Lonesome River Band—itself a legendary group heading toward its 40th anniversary—almost necessarily of note, but from the project’s opening notes, the music itself makes the decisive argument that this is one exciting set.

Pioneers in turning the already significant strain of gospel themes in songs performed by first-generation bluegrass artists like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and, especially Reno & Smiley—friends from the group’s earliest days—into an exclusive focus, The Easter Brothers helped to pave a “bluegrass gospel” road that would be traveled by a steady stream of acts who channeled their Christian convictions into a musical world ruled by banjos and fiddles, flat-top guitars and mandolins. For well over a half century, the Brothers were a regular presence in churches, at festivals, on television and radio shows, and made an avalanche of records, while contributing a number of songs to the bluegrass, and especially bluegrass gospel songbooks.

“Growing up in Patrick County, Virginia, I was influenced by a lot of Bluegrass Gospel,” recalls Lonesome River Band’s award-winning banjo player, harmony vocalist and leader, Sammy Shelor. “One of the strongest groups in that genre was The Easter Brothers, from just down the road in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Their songwriting and harmonies were so strong and inspiring to me in my youth, and it has stayed in my heart all these years. We are so happy to be able to pay tribute to these fine gentlemen and the legacy they have created.”

With years of playing together under their belts, this edition of LRB—Shelor, fiddler Mike Hartgrove, singers Brandon Rickman (guitar), Jesse Smathers (mandolin) and bassist Barry Reed—echoes the Brothers’ long familiarity with one another as they explore the breadth of the Brothers’ career and catalog. There are Southern Gospel-flavored songs like “Standing on the Banks,” mountain-flavored meditations like the classic “Lord, I’m Just a Branch,” the early favorite, “Every Minute Means a Mile,” the more recent “Little at a Time” (press play above to listen)—this version already a hit single for LRB—and more, each showing a different facet of the Brothers’ catalog and sound, delivered by musicians for whom this sound and these songs are almost second nature.

“We want to sincerely thank the Easter Brothers for all the years these gentlemen shared the blessing of their music all over the country,” adds Shelor, “and the many miles they traveled to do so. It was truly anointed, and done for the glory of God; you can hear it in the lyrics. Please go back and listen to the original recordings of these great songs—it will be a blessing!”