FolkWorld #76 11/2021
© Mountain Home Music Company

Across the Western Ocean

Darren Nicholson on a Mission

Darren Nicholson

Mountain Home Music Company’s Darren Nicholson is a man on a mission — and if you think, based on his membership in award-winning bluegrass quintet Balsam Range, that you know what it is, his new EP is going to come as a mighty big surprise.

Darren Nicholson

Artist Video

The aptly titled Man On A Mission — out now — shows the singer, songwriter and mandolin player in a brand new light, and the revelation comes less than a minute into the searing opener, “Love Is War,” when the sounds of old-time mountain banjo and fiddle give way to a flourish of drums and a muscular country-rock rendition of a lover’s plea to “call a truce — I can’t take it anymore.” From there, with expectations readjusted, the concise, six-song set offers a portrait of Nicholson as a musician as comfortable behind an electric mandolin as a vintage acoustic version, writing songs tailor-made for country-flavored Americana settings.

Working mostly with fellow Western North Carolinians, from songwriting partners like Charles Humphrey III (Songs From The Road Band) to the A-team session players and producer/keyboardist Jeff Collins, Nicholson boldly fulfills his redefinitional mission, serving up a variety of rootsy material — from the lonesome country ballad, “All Night Long” through the tongue-in-cheek boogie-woogie of “Them Hateful Woman Blues” to the gritty R&B of the closing title track (complete with wailing harmonies from local soul singer Leeda Lyric Jones) — without a moment’s hesitation or a single false note. To be sure, there are echoes of predecessors and heroes like Marty Stuart and Darrell Scott, but in the end, this is music that reflects a lifelong musician’s deepest creativity.

“This album is a journey into the human condition, with relationships and feelings turned into an Appalachian Americana roots tapestry,” says Nicholson, who uses a songwriter’s vivid imagery to convey the album’s breadth. “It’s a Saturday night raucous party with dancing, electric guitars and fiddles twangin’ feeding your energy. It’s rockabilly attitude, and it’s tongue-in-cheek. It’s the heartbreak of things not working out and having to return home to regroup. It’s triumph, hope, and positivity set to mountain soul. It’s breaking deals with yourself, and it’s also learning from your mistakes and looking for the bright spot. It’s a lonely Sunday morning, saying goodbye to an old friend. Saying hello to new ones! It’s up, it’s down. It’s a wide mix of music and emotion with the common thread of truth and honesty. It’s from the heart.

“I write about life and the human condition,” he concludes. “I write about things I’ve lived, and I just try to perform them as best I can.”

Balsam Range

Artist Video Balsam Range @ FROG

About Darren Nicholson: Darren Nicholson is a bluegrass and Americana musician based in Haywood County, in the mountains of Western North Carolina. A GRAMMY nominee and a recipient of multiple International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, Darren has appeared countless times on WSM's Grand Ole Opry, at the Ryman Auditorium, CMT, GAC, and many of the world's most famous venues and networks. Currently, he records and tours as a full-time, founding member of Balsam Range, with all sorts of collaborative efforts each year. Darren is also renowned as a solo artist, session musician, and songwriter.

Balsam Range's “Santa Barbara” reaches No. 1 on Bluegrass Charts

Following hit songs "Richest Man," "Grit and Grace" and "Rivers, Rains and Runaway Trains," Balsam Range's "Santa Barbara" has reached the top of the Bluegrass radio charts, claiming the No. 1 spot on the July monthly chart and on the weekly chart for two weeks in a row. "So excited to see 'Santa Barbara' on the top of the charts. It all starts with the song and we have been blessed with great songs and songwriters," says Buddy Melton, the two-time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year who sings this song. "Thanks to everyone for supporting our music and to Adam Wright for writing a great tune."

Balsam Range

“Santa Barbara,” is a song that captures the complicated attitude of a man too self-aware to deny the gap between the life he lives and the one he wants — or to deny his own responsibility for the difference. “I’m tired of looking at you/Knowing I’m the reason that you’re crying,” it begins, and with each successive “I’m tired” — it’s the start of every line in the song’s two well-crafted verses — Melton convincingly conveys the narrator’s unsparing self-evaluation before leavening the verdict with an unexpected dash of humor that puts an exclamation point to the irresistibly hooky chorus:

"Sometimes I get to thinking someone oughta just knock me down
Sometimes I get the feeling that all I do is just run my mouth
And if I had a dollar for every bit of trouble that I’ve caused
We’d be living in Santa Barbara in a house the size of the Taj Mahal"

Built on an archetypal three-chord, up-tempo bluegrass frame provided by hot songwriter Wright and punctuated by high-energy solos from Melton, mandolinist Darren Nicholson, Caleb Smith (guitar, harmony vocals) and banjo master Marc Pruett over a steady pulse supplied by Tim Surrett (bass, harmony vocals), “Santa Barbara” is quintessential Balsam Range, offering one more reason why the group has earned multiple IBMA awards in categories that include Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year.

“Highway Side” reaches No. 1 on Bluegrass Today Chart

Balsam Range

Balsam Range, the award-winning bluegrass band from Western North Carolina, capped off a month of intensive airplay by claiming the top position on Bluegrass Today’s Monthly Airplay Chart for October with “Highway Side,” the fifth song from the quintet’s latest album, Moxie and Mettle, to go to No. 1.

Balsam Range

“Highway Side” follows IBMA Song of the Year, “Richest Man,” “Grit and Grace,” “Rivers, Rains and Runaway Trains” and “Santa Barbara” in reaching the top position. The song’s concise two minute story marries a Rashomon-like glimpse of a driver passing a hitchhiker to a propulsive bluegrass beat that delivers the song’s empathetic message — "I wonder how did he get there...Something tells me he and I are the same” — through strong harmonies, deft picking and an irresistible sing-along chorus. In a further boost to the track’s popularity, the group released a follow-up video that cleverly portrays the entire band in both of the lyric’s roles — riding a tour bus and thumbing a ride by the side of the road, too — while offering a glimpse of the band’s typical touring day, from loading the bus to soundcheck and performance to greeting fans after the show.

About Balsam Range: Balsam Range is Buddy Melton (fiddle, lead and tenor vocals); Darren Nicholson (mandolin, octave mandolin, lead vocals, baritone and low tenor vocals); Dr. Marc Pruett (banjo); Tim Surrett (bass, dobro, baritone and lead vocals); and Caleb Smith (guitar, lead & baritone vocals). The five original members are all acoustic musicians and singers from western North Carolina. They thoughtfully and respectfully adopted the name of a majestic range of mountains that surround part of their home county of Haywood, NC where the Great Smoky Mountains meet the Blue Ridge, the Great Balsam Range. The 2018 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year, Balsam Range, has become one of the genre’s most award-winning acts. Since forming in 2007, the group has garnered 13 IBMA awards on the heels of 8 critically-acclaimed albums. Balsam Range has left audiences spellbound while headlining major festivals from coast-to-coast, selling out venues across the nation and in multiple appearances at the Grand Ole Opry. The band collaborated with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble to record 2 albums, the second of which, Mountain Overture, debuted on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart at #5 and the Classical Crossover Chart at #6. Their album Mountain Voodoo, debuted at #4 on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums Chart and remained on that chart for 45 weeks. Three singles from that album reached #1 on the Bluegrass Today Chart, including “Blue Collar Dreams,” which spent three consecutive months at the top. After that, their album Aeonic debuted at #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart and featured hit songs like “The Girl Who Invented The Wheel,” “Get Me Gone” and “Angel Too Soon.” The band most recently claimed the #1 radio chart spots with their singles, “Richest Man,” “Grit and Grace,” and “Rivers, Rains and Runaway Trains.” In addition to winning Entertainer of the Year, Balsam Range vocalist Buddy Melton won IBMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year and bass player Tim Surrett won IBMA’s Bass Player of the Year in 2018.

Mountain Home congratulates IBMA winners

Jaelee Roberts

Artist Video www.jaeleero

Two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Entertainer of the Year Balsam Range and Mountain Home Music Company and Organic Records' Bluegrass at the Crossroads series took home awards at last night's IBMA Awards at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, North Carolina, with Balsam Range's "Richest Man" being named Song of the Year and Bluegrass at the Crossroads' "Ground Speed" winning Instrumental Recording of the Year. Earlier in the week, rising artist Jaelee Roberts won the Momentum Vocalist of the Year award.

Kristin Scott Benson

Artist Video Kristin Scott
Benson @ FROG

Balsam Range's "Richest Man" — now IBMA's Song of the Year — was the first of several singles off their newest album, Moxie and Mettle, to reach No. 1 on the Bluegrass radio charts. The award adds to more than a dozen IBMA accolades the band has won. "Richest Man" shares an important lesson about recognizing what really matters and poses comparisons between material wealth and other kinds of abundance, challenging perceptions of what it means to be “the richest man in the graveyard.” “Who has not thought about being the Richest Man? But what defines being rich? To have a life without regrets is easier said than done. The sacrifices made for gain can seldom be undone,” says Buddy Melton, Balsam Range’s fiddler and 2-time IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year. “The things lost and those won will only show with time. The old saying ‘You can’t take it with you’ comes to mind when I hear ‘Richest Man’ and the theme resonates throughout the song as it states ‘we’re all going out the same way that we came in…with nothing. So why in the world are we always worried about nothing, for nothing?’”

Bluegrass at the Crossroads won the Instrumental Recording of the Year Award for "Ground Speed," a nod to legendary banjo player Earl Scruggs. Written by Scruggs and recorded in 1959, the song was chosen by Steve Martin Banjo Prize recipient and 4-time IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Kristin Scott Benson (The Grascals), who says that it “may be my favorite Scruggs tune. It has a great melody and two signature B parts, but it can also absorb a lot of other ideas." Adds mandolin player Darren Nicholson (Balsam Range), “to record an old standard was a whole lot of fun. I love breathing new life into some of these old songs and putting our spin on it. Bluegrass is one of those really cool genres that is always moving forward but turns around and tips its hat back to the past — you’re paying homage to the old and forging something new at the same time. Earl Scruggs and his contemporaries were groundbreaking and putting their own stamp on the songs when they were originally recorded, and now I’m hearing these great musicians put their own stamp on it as well.” In addition to Benson and Nicholson, the fiery instrumental features the Infamous Stringdusters’ Jeremy Garrett (fiddle); Sideline’s guitarist, Skip Cherryholmes; and Kevin Kehrberg, bassist for Organic Records’ Zoe & Cloyd. "We are so fortunate to have Darren, Jeremy, Kevin, Kristin and Skip as part of our Mountain Home and Organic Records families," says series producer Jon Weisberger. "I thought these long-time friends of mine from across the bluegrass spectrum would make some fresh, exciting music together, and we are all so thankful that the IBMA voters agreed."

Rising bluegrass singer Jaelee Roberts was named Momentum Vocalist of the Year at Wednesday's IBMA Momentum Awards luncheon. Roberts signed with Mountain Home last year, and has released three singles, "Something You Didn't Count On," "Still Waters" and "Think Again." She also performs with Sister Sadie, which was named Vocal Group of the Year. "Wow! That’s about all I know to say...I’m just speechless! I was so grateful to even be considered for the Momentum Vocalist award among the other awesome nominees that actually winning it seems surreal," says Roberts. "I appreciate the IBMA having this category to support and encourage new artists, and my heart is truly so happy to have received this amazing honor. Thank you so much...I love y’all!" Though she grew up in a musical family, it wasn’t inevitable that Jaelee would take to music, but with lifelong musicians and industry professionals for parents, the opportunities to learn from — and alongside — musical heroes were frequent; by the time she entered her teens, she’d recorded as a singer not only with her father, but with the Tom T. and Dixie Hall-backed Daughters of Bluegrass, and before she completed high school, she’d been chosen in two consecutive years as a vocal track participant in the industry-leading GRAMMY Camp. More recently, she was selected to appear in the juried IBMA Songwriter Showcase. Today, the young singer-songwriter is enrolled in nearby Middle Tennessee State University’s renowned songwriting and music business programs as she immerses herself in the dynamic community of young bluegrass, country and roots music musicians emerging in Nashville.

See full list of 2021 IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards winners @!

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Darren Nicholson, (3)-(6) Balsam Range, (7) Jaelee Roberts, (8) Kristin Scott Benson, (9) Dale Ann Bradley, (10) Sierra Hull, (11) Billy Strings (unknown/website).

FolkWorld Homepage German Content English Content Editorial & Commentary News & Gossip Letters to the Editors CD & DVD Reviews Book Reviews Folk for Kidz Folk & Roots Online Guide - Archives & External Links Search FolkWorld About Contact Privacy Policy

FolkWorld - Home of European Music
FolkWorld Homepage
Layout & Idea of FolkWorld © The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld