CD Review: Big Virginia Sky

Sing! We’ll Never Come Back Down

If you find the album in iTunes, it is listed as country. This isn’t exactly an accurate description of Big Virginia Sky’s self-titled debut album. I’d say it is closer to the bluegrass side of Americana music. Now, in full disclosure, the lead singer and guitar player, James Adkins, is an old and close friend of mine. That said, this will be an objective CD review; I promise.

Big Virginia Sky is a quintet hailing from, of course, Virginia comprised of lead singer and guitarist, James Adkins; mandolin player and vocalist, Scott Slay; bassist, Steve Lazar; percussionist, Dale Lazar; and 5-time IBMA banjo player of the year, Sammy Shelor. Fans of James Adkins will recognize many of the 11 tracks on this album, as they were written by him and featured on his solo album, The Angel and Me.

The album opens with upbeat guitar strumming, lively banjo picking, and sweet harmony on the track “Big Virginia Sky,” an homage to the area in Virginia where the bvs-cd-smallband rehearsed and recorded this album. This is followed by the ballad “Sky Is Falling,” a personal story about a man who is away from home and pining for his love and the coastal town he calls home. “True blue, I’m semper fidelis. When I’m gone, it’s you I do miss” Adkins sings with conviction.

“Southbound” is another traveling song. If the previous song is a love song for a woman, this one is a love song for home.

Up next is the instrumental “Sammy’s Breakdown.” Get out your dancin’ shoes for this one. It’s chock full of upbeat and accurate picking. Each instrument gets a chance to shine via solo. To me, however, the song loses a little momentum when it’s the bass’ turn to solo. The driving movement of the plucking comes to an abrupt stop when Lazar chooses his bow for the solo. The bowing is well done, but to me, it seems misplaced.

“Pour One for Me” is a fun and upbeat drinking song that everyone will enjoy. “Ole Tennessee” gives us an opportunity to hear Scott Slay in the role of lead singer. He’s also the songwriter. This song finds a couple drinking moonshine and enjoying their shared love, getting “pickled in the moonlight.”

“Whiskey and Long Talks” is the first original song James played for me, nearly five years ago. I loved it then, but the addition of a full band and harmony make this one of my favorite tracks on the album. It is followed by another instrumental, “Bullfrog.” This second instrumental is more complex and layered than “Sammy’s Breakdown,” and more of a journey. “Bullfrog” is music to move to.

For the next song, “Love Song,” Adkins is joined by Sierra Hull. This duet is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. It was already eloquently written, but the addition of a female vocalist changes this song exponentially as compared to the original solo version. The final studio song on the album is an upbeat song of sorrow called “Lay Me Down.”

The final track, “Rye Whiskey,” was recorded live and the raw power of a live bluegrass/Americana performance comes through. The rest of the album being a heaping helping of songwriting and musicianship, this track is a delicious taste of what one might expect from a Big Virginia Sky concert.

Good stuff. If you’re into bluegrass and Americana, you’ll find yourself singing along, and you’ll like it.

Dan Fugate

Dan Fugate is marketing director for Blues Angel Music in Pensacola, Florida. He is also administrative director of the nonprofit foundation of the same name. Husband, father, and Cub Scout leader, Dan is also co-host of the Beer & Bros. podcast, an audio-only podcast where he and his brother-in-law drink beer and discuss the week's news.

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