At its finest moments -- David Long's blue tenor arcing over Chris Sharp's timeless vocal -- this newly established duo finds itself in long-lost-brother territory, a natural harmony in the tradition of Alton and Rabon Delmore or Bill and Charlie Monroe. But beyond perhaps, the pair's vocal affinity, Sharp and Long prove on One Hand on the Radio to be leading lights of a noteworthy trend amongst young practitioners of traditional American acoustic music. Because the pair has managed to reject both the dogma of bluegrass purism and the fleeting hippieness of rock fusion in favor of a magpie-scavenged collection of American music's finest assets.
It's the same direction each artist's career has been leading for years: Asheville's Sharp as John Hartford's guitarist and a contributor to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Down From the Mountain projects; Pittsburgh-based Long with his years of studying and touring with similarly credentialed mandolin maverick Mike Compton. That background sets the stage for One Hand's catholic approach. For the likes of "My Baby's Just Like Money," a string-band take on Lefty Frizzell's honky-tonk lope, or the AM country, triple-fiddle swoon of Bob Gallion's "Your Wild Life."
Sure, there's plenty of finger-shredding bluegrass licks, all over "Root Hog or Die" for example. But to have remained true to the bluegrass faith would've been to lose the "what, me?" innocence of Sharp's unadulterated mountain voice on the naughty New Orleans jazz lyric on "Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll." And perhaps even the truck-driving title track, on which the simple setting of Sharp's guitar, Long's mandolin, Kevin Kehrberg's bass and the three men's voices elicits the American meta-moment: the excitement, freedom, loneliness and despair of late night and open road. Available through www.bigevemusic.com