Bluegrass is one of the few musical genres where sidemen receive recognition amongst its fanbase. From its earliest years, enthusiasts revered the playing of supporting musicians such as Paul Warren, Josh Graves, and George Shuffler among others. In modern times, Jason Carter is a name that would most likely enter someone’s mind when thinking about sidemen in bluegrass music. Known for his thirty years as the fiddler for the Del McCoury Band, Carter’s second solo project, Lowdown Hoedown, adds new dimension by spotlighting his abilities as a vocalist.
Unsurprisingly, Jason has surrounded himself with an incredible supporting cast of musicians and backup vocalists all throughout this project. This is most certainly the case with the opening track King of the Hill written by Bruce Hornsby. Along with Carter on fiddle and lead vocal, this piece also features Sam Bush on mandolin, Cody Kilby on guitar, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Russ Carson on banjo, and Dennis Crouch on bass.
The Six O Clock Train and a Girl with Green Eyes is a track that demonstrates Jason’s rich baritone voice. Written by the late John Hartford, this performance also features Billy Strings singing tenor. Jason and Billy’s vocal blend on this particular cut is very pleasing.
The Likes Of Me was one of the last songs recorded by country legend Conway Twitty before his passing in 1993. Performed here with a modern bluegrass feel, this track pairs Carter alongside his long time boss man Del McCoury. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone else singing harmony on this song. Like other recordings he’s lent his distinct voice to, McCoury does an exceptional job of complementing Jason’s lead vocals.
The title track, Hoedown For My Lowdown Rowdy Ways, features Jason alongside country singer Dierks Bentley. Danny Barnes who is featured here on banjo wrote this song. It definitely has a different feel than the other tracks on this project, but nonetheless it fits in well. Rhythmically and melodically speaking, it’s exactly what you would expect someone like Barnes to create. This track also includes Tim O’Brien on mandolin and David Grier on guitar.
Midnight Flyer features Jason alongside his bandmates in The Travelin’ McCourys. While this classic song by the late Paul Craft has been recorded many times over the years, Carter’s rendition is vibrant and full of energy.
The Queen of the Nashville Night pairs Carter alongside Vince Gill. Written by Shawn Camp, this song definitely falls into the country category. Nonetheless it’s a really fine track once again showing off Carter’s baritone alongside Gill’s smooth backing vocals.
Kissimmee Kid is the sole instrumental on the project. Written by Vassar Clements, this track is a great example of how much Jason has studied Vassar’s unique fiddle style. Along with David Grier on guitar, Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Dennis Crouch on bass, this track also features Marty Stuart on mandolin and Scott Vestal on banjo.
The last two tracks on Lowdown Hoedown are complete opposites of each other in terms of style and source. Highway 52 comes from the repertoire of Dave Evans and features Joe Mullins on harmony vocals, making this track unapologetically bluegrass. Bird Song, on the other hand, comes from the Grateful Dead. Featuring The Travelin’ McCourys alongside drummer Jonathan Fishman, this track is the ultimate example of acoustic jam band music. It made for an interesting closer.
Lowdown Hoedown is a supremely solid effort. Not only does it showcase Jason Carter’s abilities as a lead singer, it also displays his broad range on the instrument that fans have come to know and love him for.