You won’t find many better partnership for old-time, bluegrass, and classic country music than this. Heidi Clare (formerly of the Reeltime Travelers and more recently the front woman for AtaGallop) and Dry Branch Fire Squad frontman Ron Thomason have joined for a romping ride in Bygone Days. The word “ride” is appropriate: Both Clare and Thomason are serious equestrians, actively involved in horse training and competitions from their home base in Cotopaxi, Colo. Their music turns, trots, canters, and gallops. And the unadorned recording, with Heidi and Ron playing live in the studio without a stable of supporting pickers or overdubbing, is frequently a joy for not being self-consciously polished by the players and for being well-captured by engineer Harold Prentice. The elements fittingly come together in Thomason’s solo “Pearl Of Them All,” the ballad of a beloved steed. When Clare and Thomason join as a duo on Joe Newberry’s “Singing As We Rise” or Bob McDill’s “Happy Endings,” they have no trouble drawing in the listener.
In addition to Thomason’s mandolin and old-time banjo picking, his impassioned guitar style, with its unbridled lead lines and bass runs, is showcased here. It’s a fine match for Clare’s jumping and galloping on fiddle. Ron has a cry in his voice that recalls the years in which he absorbed the singing of Ralph Stanley as a member of the Clinch Mountain Boys. His innate feel for the music transports such classics as “Coal Tattoo” powerfully back into the bygone days. Heidi similarly has standout vocals of sincerity and quality, as witness the Dolly Parton classic “To Daddy” which she makes her own.
Bygone Days includes (somewhere) Lonesome Cowboy Hobo Wyoming Slim, a performer who evidently covers the range, even those parts of it not covered by his name. Slim and Ron clearly share a love of horses and of tall-told biographical entries. (Here, we must make a tip of the Stetson to entertainingly straight-faced liner notes contributed by one “Colonel Dakota B. Grayson-Carson, Montana Ranger”). Slim and Ron have also shared billings with Heidi at the same bluegrass festivals. But the odds that they’ve actually shared the same stage with her or even been seen together in the same room might actually be slim to none.