“The Appalachian Mountains: more than a trail, Appalachia is a spirit,” begins a smoldering voice beside some unsettlingly slothful strings in the backdrop, their melody echoing the words as though they were never meant to be separated in the first place. This is “The Spirit of Appalachia,” the spoken word introduction to Appalachian Road Show’s Tribulation LP. Appalachian Road Show aren’t more than ninety seconds into their sophomore album and already the energy in the air is tense and pushing us to the edge of our seats. “Don’t Want to Die in the Storm” initiates a deluge of decadence that will swell all the more in the whiplash-inducing “Goin’ to Bring Her Back,” and as fun as these first three tracks are, they sit in front of thirteen more that are just as endearing to bluegrass fans globally.

URL: https://www.theappalachianroadshow.com/

“Sales Tax on the Women” brings us back to a simple, swaggering beat before turning us over to the unspeakably emotional “Wish the Wars Were All Over” and its spoken word counterpart in “Wars. Torn Asunder.” It’s in these two tracks that we’re able to grasp not only the validity of Appalachian Road Show’s modern mission but their overall connection to the bluegrass gods. “Goin’ Across the Mountain” completes the trilogy-style story on an optimistic but wholly bittersweet note, and even though the explosive jam that comes next in “The Appalachian Road” is stunning, it doesn’t have quite as much of an emotional punch as the nine minutes of content that preclude it in this tracklist does.

“Gospel Train” has no instruments, but instead a single vocal that seems to harmonize with itself in some ethereal and experimental fashion I didn’t know I was going to encounter here. It leads into another spoken word break in “The Old World & New Sounds” that keeps the historical/storytelling theme going strong as we sink into the Smithsonian-branded folk tune “Beneath That Willow Tree.” Around this point in Tribulation, it gets hard to tell where one end of a track is starting and another is coming to an end, as the music is formatted to feel like a fireside gathering with friends rather than a traditional LP. Powerful ballads like “Hard Times Come Again No More” find a continuation in the spoken “Hardship, Hope, and the Enduring Spirit of Appalachia” and the self-explanatory sample “Rev. Jasper Davis – Old Time Preaching onTribulations” that works surprisingly well in this setting.

AIRPLAY DIRECT: https://airplaydirect.com/music/tribulation/

Tribulation crosses the finish line on the back of “Tribulations,” an affectionate conclusion that brings us full-circle and at the same time teases all the possibilities that still remain for these performers. Appalachian Road Show turn in another smashing hybrid in this record that is certain to please anyone who loves bluegrass at its most respectably untainted and freewheeling, and for me, I think it goes above and beyond the bar set forth by their first album, Barry Abernathy & Darrell Webb Present Appalachian Road Show. The bottom line? This project still has a lot of content left to share with us, and their latest cut is undeniably their best so far.

Nicole Killian

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