By Derek Halsey (reporter@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Jan. 9, 2013 | Modified: Jan. 9, 2013

The members of the Zac Brown Band have always been good to bluegrass and American roots music.

When Brown finally made his debut at MerleFest a couple of years ago, it only marked his first appearance as a performer, as he attended the festival many years earlier as a young fan.

Likewise, Zac Brown Band bassist John Driskell Hopkins has also been a long-time lover of bluegrass and gospel fare. So, when it came time for Hopkins to record his new solo album, “Daylight,” he decided to collaborate with the Western North Carolina-based (Haywood County) bluegrass band, Balsam Range.

Balsam Range features Darren Nicholson, Tim Surrett, Buddy Melton, Marc Pruett and Caleb Smith.
The album starts off with “Runaway Train,” a straight-up Appalachian-funky cut that lets the listener know that this project will have some fire in it. The song starts off with the sounds of the great dobro player, Jerry Douglas, who keeps it animated and slinky as his riffs lead to Hopkins’ off-the-wall imitation of an out-of-control coal train barreling through the mountains.

The next number, “I Will Lay Me Down,” brings the sound back to the old bluegrass way, with Zac Brown showing up to add some lead vocals and mountain harmonies to the song.

The great Grammy-nominated banjo player, Tony Trischka, shows up to help bring to life to the title cut, the beautiful and pensive story song, “Daylight.”

Hopkins has a singing voice that is earthy and distinctive, and he definitely had a musical vision in mind when approaching this recording. Unlike what one would expect, Hopkins did not know the members of Balsam Range before putting this project together. Instead, he heard a song by the band on Sirius satellite radio and then sought them out.

This album features love songs, twisted songs and life-on-the-road songs. “The Devil Lives In A Mason Jar” is a bent, yet cautionary, tale about a man fighting his demons, which take the form of an inhabited jar of corn liquor that resides “out in the shed in my backyard.”

Hopkins also kicks up the tempo on a few tunes, putting Balsam Range to full use on cuts, such as the “Devil Went Down To Georgia”-flavored “It’s Not OK,” the smoking “Shady Bald Breakdown” and the country-swing-turned-bluegrass romp, “The Grass Don’t Get No Greener.” This is an unusual album that is a lot of fun, driven by Hopkins’ eccentric personality and Balsam Range’s expert musicianship.

For more information, or to purchase “Daylight,” visit http://www.johndriskellhopkins.com.

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