Central Vermont musician "Banjo" Dan Lindner takes his sweet time when it comes to releasing CDs with his Mid-Nite Plowboys. The group is undeniably Vermont's longest-running, uninterrupted bluegrass combo — Banjo Dan, his brother Willy and guitarist and crooner Al Davis have been playing under the Plowboys moniker for at least 35 years. Fire in the Sugarhouse, the band's first recording since Some Rust . . . Runs Good in 2000, was worth the wait.
The disc showcases many of the things the Plowboys do best, such as singing group harmony. Like other "sibling" bands known for lush vocals — the Everlys, the Roches and The Beach Boys come to mind — the Lindner brothers and Davis really do sound as though they've been singing together for decades. "New" arrival Jon Drake — he's only been with the band for 14 years — provides the high lonesome notes. Fiddler Phil Bloch is the only one who doesn't sing. But he provides sweet, high fiddling throughout the recording.
All of the Plowboys are fine instrumentalists, so solid playing from all parties is a given on their CDs. The 14 tracks include a mix of original compositions, bluegrass standards — Bloch recreates Kenny Baker's arrangement of the fiddle classic "Washington County" with aplomb — and a few tracks by contemporary songwriters. One of my current favorites is the Willy Lindner composition "Yankee Requiem," which uses for the refrain an inscription found on an old gravestone, and features still more impressive vocal work by all four singers.
Another Lindner brothers project is The Sky Blue Boys, in which Dan and Willy honor the style of the fabled Bolick Brothers, Earl and Bill — also known as The Blue Sky Boys. The Bolicks were country-music stars who peaked in the late 1930s. Their vocal harmonies and mix of religious and secular string-band music had a profound influence on The Everly Brothers, who in turn inspired Simon and Garfunkel — and then the rest of us. Some of the strongest tracks on Fire actually sound more like The Blue Sky Boys than bluegrass forbears The Stanley Brothers. That said, the CD's final track, "Harbor of Love," is a Carter Stanley classic, and has some of the best choirboy vocals on the disc.
Fire in the Sugarhouse grows on you. It's another fine disc from Vermont's venerable string-band veterans.