Well, if you want to get on my good side, cover a song from Laura Boosinger, and indeed that’s how Della Mae starts this collection. “Letter from Down the Road” is a traditional song with new words and arrangement from Boosinger, and the version included here is a very faithful romp through a delightful piece. From there, Della Mae keeps the energy up on what is easily the best release from them to date.
This album, This World Oft Can Be, is the first of Della Mae’s albums to be recorded and distributed by a label (Rounder) so their earlier material can be hard to come by. Still, the feel of this material really marks a move from the league to the Majors for what is by any measure an extremely capable group of musicians. And they should be. They were all hand picked by member Kimber Luidiker for their abilities as well as their ability to come together as a unit.
It was a very measured and professional approach, and it worked. “The identity that we’ve developed as a band is a melting pot of our different personalities and backgrounds,” says Luidiker, which is true of the material on this release, with all members really adding equally to the sound and feel, one that is brash and forceful without being abrasive or overwhelming.
The member of Della Mae clearly know the tradition—hence the opening song which, really, is a bit of a buried treasure—and choose to shine a light on it. The last song on the album, “Some Roads Lead On” (one of the few songs that wasn’t written by members of the band) is gorgeously played on June Carter Cash’s 1933 Gibson L5. They recorded the album in Johnny Cash’s studio, and they borrowed John Hartford’s fiddle for “Letter from Down the Road.” While those kinds of things may not be all that important to sound, they are nice touches nonetheless. With so many young bands trying to race out as fast as possible from the traditions, this is a band that is trying to take some of them with them.
If we were picking nits, we might say that the material can seem a bit uneven in places. The opening track is followed by an original, “Mabeline,” that is wonderful, and has a beautiful forward propulsion to it. Great music for the highway, if you’re looking for that kind of thing. Then we dip a bit into some tracks that maybe don’t work as well. Nevertheless, other standouts here are “Hounds” and the title track.
It’s not a bluegrass album, but it doesn’t need to be. Rather, it’s a new-sounding album that is careful, skilful, and varied. There are some songs that will make you want to learn them pretty much straight away, and you’ll know which ones they are the moment you hear them.