Randy Kohrs is one of those disgustingly talented guys who does it all: he’s a Grammy-winning producer, for Jim Lauderdale’s Bluegrass Diaries; a renowned session musician on more than 600 albums, ranging from Hank Thompson to Little Big Town; a familiar face in the touring bands of Hank III, Tom T. Hall, and Dolly Parton, among others; the man driving that wicked dobro on Dierks Bentley’s “What Was I Thinkin.'” He writes, sings, plays, produces, engineers, mixes… he can probably juggle, too.
For all his talents, though, Kohrs is not a show-off. That’s one of the first things you’ll notice on his fifth solo album, the soulful mix of country, bluegrass, and blues that is Quicksand. It finds the artist (who, naturally, produces) sharing the spotlight with a host of his top-flight musician friends, making for what could very well end up being one of the all around best-sounding albums of 2010.
Thankfully, the pleasures aren’t just instrumental. Kohrs has a surprisingly flexible tenor, which he exercises on a set of material that ranges from straight-up bluegrass opener “Devil of the Trail” to the outright blues of “Down Around Clarksdale.” In between, three of the highlights have a cautionary bent, warning against the dangers of losing hope in the face of adversity (the gorgeous farming tale of “Die on the Vine”), addiction (which will sink you, slowly but surely, like “Quicksand”), and deceit (the bluesy gospel of “If You Think It’s Hot Here”). All are expertly delivered, but none more intricately woven than “The Ghost of Jack McCline,” a haunted number in which the slinky instrumental interplay sounds like the ghost itself moving about. “Cumberland” rolls as easily as its namesake, while kicky kiss-off “Time and Time Again” tears out of the driveway and never looks back.
There are also three classic country covers: While Kohrs nails the wryness of Del Reeves’ “This Must Be the Bottom” and effectively reconfigures Tom T. Hall’s “More About John Henry,” his quick romp through Webb Pierce’s “It’s Been So Long” feels less essential. In a more commercial country vein, mama tribute “Sunday Clothes” could appear – probably presented less tastefully – on the next Brad Paisley or Joe Nichols album.
At its best, Quicksand is perfectly titled – an album that stops you in your tracks, envelops you in a consuming experience. It doesn’t always hit that mark, but it hits it often enough that you won’t even think of trying to escape. A highly rewarding listen for fans of soulful acoustic music that’s reverent without ever being stodgy.