The McLains are top notch players themselves, but never self-indulgent. Instead, their facility fills the dozen songs on their debut with melodic excellence and remarkable energy. Vocalist Jennifer McLain handles the lion’s share of vocal duties and her voice does a fantastic and deeply felt job of exploring a variety of emotions and stances throughout this release. The long experience both husband and wife have in the music industry further ensures that this is an immaculately produced outing that presents their overall talents in most compelling fashion possible.
“This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” sends the album shooting off into the atmosphere. There’s, naturally, a great deal of timing and years of playing that goes into making music this challenging sound so effortless, but the McLains have mastered their art. There’s bright, optimistic melodies woven throughout this song and the mix of instruments work in perfect sympathy with one another. “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” is a little closer to traditional country balladry than what you might expect, but it retains enough of the duo’s guiding musical spirit to sound consistent alongside the other tracks. McLain turns in a lovingly wrought vocal on this song. “Jesus, Hold My Hand” is a classic of the genre, performed by innumerable recording artists, but the McLain own this with their unique blend of delicacy and virtuosity. The genuine feeling underlying this song clearly emerges. There’s a great universality in the song “Up This Hill and Down” that will appeal to a wide audience without ever cheaply coming by its effects. Jennifer McLain’s singing is perfectly tailored for the lyric and she gently embodies the weariness of the lyric. It’s a realistic narrative and well written. The title song is a Johnny Cash penned number that, like the duo’s earlier stab at covering Carl Perkins, contains whiffs of the original spirit while still sounding very much part and parcel of the duo’s creative vision. The added, understated bite the song gains from suggesting some qualities of its author while still displaying all the characteristics common to the duo’s musical sound makes it quite a unique number. “Boom Town” is a thoughtful, singer/songwriter slanted track with strong details and a solid, well-constructed musical arrangement. Hit the Road and Go ends with another traditional spiritual from the gospel tradition, “I’m Ready To Go Home”. It has all of the complicated, but unquestionably sincere joy implied by the title and lyric and ends the album on a decidedly upbeat note.
This is a classy, top shelf professional release from two supreme stylists in the genre.
Michael Saulman - December 13, 2016
“This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” gets Hit the Road and Go going and sets the pace for the twelve spirited songs of roots-y love songs and spirited Gospel and instrumental numbers. Jennifer McLain has a beautiful voice and showcases it on the heartbreaking ballad “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” and Gospel standard “Jesus, Hold My Hand.” “Up The Hill And Down” is spirited bluesy ‘grass and the instrumental “McIntosh” is just downright moving in its display of the band’s prolific talent. The title tune, "Hit the Road and Go" showcases even more of the band's talent with Bluegrass themes in the lyrics and their expert musicality with the melody.
Hit the Road and Go may just be the perfect Bluegrass album. It blends everything a listener loves about the genre. It’s both expanding on the roots defined by Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys decades ago and also showcases where Bluegrass can go in the 21st century.
Matt Bjorke - December 9, 2016
Indie Music Previews
The album’s opener “This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” has the sort of feistiness listeners will expect from a song about being disappointed in love and marshals those emotions to a lively tempo and kinetic instrumental exchanges between the fiddle, acoustic guitar, and mandolin. Banjo plays a crucial role on many album tracks, but its influence here is muted some. The dominant instrument on this track is violin and it streaks over the top with colorful flair. The ballad “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” brings out the guitar more and the fluent melodic runs unfurling from the six string, but it’s never overcooked. Instead, the artistry they are capable of manifesting reaches one of its zeniths with this song. Hearing a bluegrass duo who’s willing to tackle songs from the late great Carl Perkins is a little surprising, but the more surprising fact is that the McLain’s cover of “Restless” is so good it makes you forget, a little at least, that Perkins’ version even exists. Conjuring that rockabilly spirit in this setting is no small feat, but they do it with considerable panache and a lively sense of playfulness. “Jesus, Hold My Hand” is a familiar song to anyone who’s a devoted fan of the genre and has seen numerous covers over the years in a variety of styles. It sounds a little safer than it should here, but it’s wholly consistent with the musical mood dominating much of the album. Jennifer McLain’s voice does a particularly good job of conveying her longing for the restorative influence of God in her life.
The title song is a cover of a lesser known Johnny Cash song and it’s quite possible to still hear the rockabilly/country roots peering throughout their solidly bluegrass treatment. The duo has a wont for relying a little more heavily on acoustic guitar than most bluegrass albums do and this song is no different, but rather than pulling them away from their roots, the added influence of acoustic guitar merely helps to distinguish their material from the typical. One of the album’s two instrumentals, “Lady of Spain” is the album’s penultimate song and a jazzy bluegrass track that rushes past the listener without sacrificing any of its style or nuance. The last track is particularly affecting – “I’m Ready to Go Home” brings Hit the Road and Go to a very considered and beautiful conclusion.
The dozen songs on this album reaffirm the traditional values of this music while providing listeners with a revealing glimpse of the performers behind the songs. It’s an all around winner.
Scott Wigley - December 15, 2016
This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)” is textbook bluegrass, page one, and delivered with the gusto that defines the best the genre has to offer. The various string instruments weave together without a single discernible bum note and, tied together, achieves a greater, much larger sound than they are capable of otherwise generating, “Restless” finds them branching off into slightly surprising territory with a Carl Perkins cover, but they stake out new territory by inventively remodeling Perkins’ rockabilly style for their purposes. McLain manifests enough bite in her voice to make the lyrical content plausible and the added backing vocals, like elsewhere on Hit the Road and Go, are expertly handled without ever announcing themselves too loudly. Their cover of Albert E. Brumley’s “Jesus, Hold My Hand” is the latest revamping of this classic gospel track. It isn’t the first bluegrass version, by far, but the McLains put their stamp on the song thanks to the generous guitar work and their penchant for sweetening things with excellent vocal melodies and harmony work.
Michael McLain takes his sole lead vocal on the album with the cover of Doc and Merle Watson’s “Southbound”. His voice has just enough muscularity and grit to make this convincing vocally, but instrumentally is where it shines brightest. One of the album’s two instrumentals, “Mcintosh” has propulsive forward movement and a lot of energy while still retaining some melodic delicacy. They cover Johnny Cash for the album’s title song and it remains a recognizable Cash track throughout its entirety, but the McLains do a great job of infusing this with a bluegrass character and their own personalities. “Boom Town” is the album’s sole original, co-written by Jennifer McLain, and it’s a glimpse of our modern world set to traditional musical structures. It succeeds because its such a successful blend. The McLains end Hit the Road and Go with the classic spiritual “I’m Ready To Go Home”. It’s one of the album’s best performances thanks to the complete understanding of the song’s emotional weather that they demonstrate and they really do an exceptional job of capturing what the feeling of inviting death with the faith in a better afterlife must look and sound like. It’s a fitting conclusion for a release steeped in tradition, but there’s enough of the McLains here and elsewhere through Hit the Road and Go to remind us that this isn’t a tribute album, but rather bluegrass is the vehicle through which the McLains express themselves.
Lance Wright - December 13, 2016
The album’s first song, “This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again)”, has a breezy mood and tasteful, underplay vocal harmonies adding much to the airy emotional tenor. The acoustic guitar work on this song is particularly sharp and really brings a lot of flair to the song’s melodic value, but the fiddle work isn’t too shabby either. The fiddle takes on an even more prominent role with the second track "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?”, but there’s new musical elements introduced that double down on the song’s bluesy feel. The dobro never takes over a big role in the mix, but it makes for excellent color in this languid, uncluttered ballad. “Jesus, Hold My Hand” is a gospel classic courtesy of writer Alfred E. Brumley that gets a smooth, loving rendition from the McLains and their collaborators. The acoustic guitar work, once again, is sparkling and has great interplay with the other string instruments, particularly the mandolin. Doc Watson’s “Southbound” pulls Michael McLain in front of the microphone for a rare solo vocal, but Jennifer McLain contributes some key supporting vocals at scattered points throughout the track. “Mcintosh” is a crackling instrumental with great exchanges between the various string instruments they bring to bear. The title track covers a relatively obscure Johnny Cash song, but the McLains lace it with so much of the bluegrass and blues influences that they own the song as their own. Jennifer McLain does quite an exemplary job with her vocals. McLain co-wrote the track “Boom Town” and this bit of thoughtful social commentary, sans any overt commentary, likely rates as one of the album’s underrated gems. Don’t overlook it – the lyrical content is sharply observed and well tailored for the music. The finale, “I’m Ready To Go Home”, could be rather dreary in some hands, but the McLains give it a rather celebratory, joyful treatment that finds no sadness in leaving this world.
This is a purist’s album, in some ways, when you consider the song selection, but the McLains consistently present this material in the most accessible light. Hit the Road and Go has a lot to offer traditionalists, but there’s something here for anyone who loves good, melodic music played by a band.
Jason Hillenburg - December 13, 2016
Their first full length album Hit the Road and Go is a twelve song collection incorporating original songs, instrumentals, and a handful of classic and mildly unexpected covers. It has warm and intimate production that highlights the vocals and instrumental work in a perfect balance and, overall when considering the number of songs and the length of each, listeners will step away from hearing this album with the feeling they’ve heard quite a satisfying work of musical art.
They have the good sense of get the album off to an uptempo start. “This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rose Again)” hits the ground running and doesn’t look back. The players have the sort of well-honed chemistry that’s a product of skill, but more so from their ability and willingness to listen to each other and respond in kind. The cascading fiddle lines help carry much of the melodic weight for this track and Jennifer McLain’s voice is a good fit for the material.
They refurbish the rocker “Restless” from the legendary Carl Perkins into a percolating bluegrass number. The fiddle lines spin off the low-key banjo providing much of the song’s rhythmic muscle underneath. They acquit themselves rather nicely on Alfred Brumley’s classic “Jesus, Hold My Hand”, but some listeners might long for a little more gravitas on these sort of songs than what the McLains see fit to provide. There’s plenty of longing communicated by the music and vocal alike, but none of the desperate need defining the song’s undercurrent. “Southbound”, originally written by Doc and Merle Watson, finds Michael McLain taking his first vocal on the album with only a smattering of contributions from Jennifer McLain’s backing vocals. It’s quite a stylish number but, once again, it sounds like it’s missing something of the artistry of the original thanks to a performance that smooths out all the inherent rough edges. “Up This Hill and Down” is a song about the pains of working hard for little reward and takes on a much more bluesy veneer, cut with a jazzy bounce, than any of the other tracks thus far. The acoustic guitar playing on much of Hit the Road and Go is quite lyrical, but it has physicality here that might surprise some listeners. Jennifer McLain turns in a far grittier vocal that we are accustomed to on the title track, a Johnny Cash song that the casual Cash fan will not recognize. The track listing makes clear, if nothing else, that the McLains are far more than mere novices in the genre and the songs chosen for this release were picked without any commercial regard. “Busy Bee Café” is one of the best straight ahead bluegrass songs on the release and has a fierce circular banjo figure that keeps the tempo humming from the start. Mandolin, guitar, and fiddle make their presence felt as well. The relaxed, yet studied, approach that the duo takes on traditional materials pays off with the final. “I’m Ready To Go Home” sounds relieved and hopeful despite the subject matter. It’s difficult, with such emotional fraught material, to embody feelings like welcoming death without casting a downbeat note, but the McLains do an exceptional job. It ends Hit the Road and Go on just the right note and in a manner consistent with what has come before.
Lydia Hillenburg - December 13, 2016
Throughout the album, Jennifer McLain’s crystal-clear vocals (sometimes joyous, sometimes plaintive, always truthful) are wed to Michael McLain’s incredibly skillful musicianship. It is a relationship that creates just the right atmosphere to showcase each of the twelve tracks on the disk perfectly.
On the album, Michael McLain (Banjo, Guitar) and Jennifer McLain (Banjo, Mandolin) are joined by Kori Caswell (Bass) and Dan Kelly (Fiddle).
Greg Victor - January 1, 2017
Dave Carter, WETS-FM
Dave Carter - host of "Studio One" (Johnson City, TN) February 8, 2017
No Depression Magazine
Imagine a first date where you play music together? Then, not only does the relationship turn into a marriage, but the music partnership turns into a great bluegrass band. That’s exactly how it started for Michael and Jennifer McLain, both of which come from an impressive musical backgrounds.
They play quite a bit in Tennessee. Michael and Jennifer McLain are regulars at Arrington Vineyard, a winery owned by Kix Brooks and located about 25 miles outside Nashville. They also can sometimes be seen on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Michael and Jennifer McLain also have been featured on NPR and PBS’ Song of the Mountains.
Michael and Jennifer McLain’s band also features some well-known musicians as well. They play with Dan Kelly, who is a well-known and much-awarded fiddler. Kori Caswell is also there keeping perfect time on bass.
When you put all the vocal abilities and instrumental talent together, it is impossible not to have a great CD. The talent and experience Michael and Jennifer have gained throughout their career is evident with this collection of songs.
The “Hit The Road And Go” CD begins with “This Old Heart (Is Gonna Rise Again),” which is a positive look at breaking up. The song is about someone who isn’t going to give up on finding love and believes good things will happen, despite currently dealing with a broken heart. The song sets a tone of optimism that is present through most of this CD. That is one reason that it’s such a pleasure to listen to the “Hit The Road and Go” CD.
Two of the most memorable songs on the CD happen to be gospel songs. “Jesus, Hold My Hand” and “I’m Ready To Go Home” fit perfectly on this CD.
Rick Amburgey - May 30, 2017