They say the only thing constant is change, and after some 15 years of music making with their original lineup, change finally came last year for western North Carolina's Balsam Range. Now, with the upcoming release of Kinetic Tone, their 10th collection for Mountain Home Music Company, the group puts an exclamation point on their embrace of the new as they welcome mandolin virtuoso Alan Bibey to the award-winning quintet. Yet beyond the refreshment of energy it embodies, the new project reveals Balsam Range as more committed than ever to expressing a broad vision of life through compelling artistry. And with three songs having already topped the charts, there's no doubt that Kinetic Tone counts as one of the most eagerly anticipated full-length releases of the year.
The album is now available for pre-save, add and order ahead of its December 1 release.
"When Balsam Range went into the studio at the beginning of 2023 to begin this album," the liner notes to Kinetic Tone recount, "it was immediately obvious to everybody present that something was different. A new level of excitement and joy of creating was present." Indeed, that new quantum of energy was responsible for the project's eventual title. "Kinetic Tone," explain the notes, "is a not-so-well-known musical term defining how sounds move from being static to changing tone by the application of ENERGY. Could be a voice. Could be a guitar. Could be voices and instruments acting in concert. We would argue that it can also be a shared mindset of a musical group."
Here, that newly-invigorated mindset is embodied in a wide ranging set of songs and performances that could only have come from what the notes call Balsam Range 2.0. From the dramatic opening of the first song, "Echo Canyon" and its tale of a place "where truth and time stand still," Kinetic Tone separates itself from the ranks of the ordinary. Instead, it's a collection of stories, portraits and meditations that encompass adventure ("Marshall McClain"), lost love ("Snake Charmer"), aging and growth ("What The Years Do"), faith ("God Knows"), the urge to roam ("Two Lane Highway"), and the changing ways of mountain and small town life ("Running Out of Reasons").
New single "Evergreen," co-written by the group's long-time friend, Michael Hearne, serves to reinforce the growing wisdom embodied in the album's first hit, "What The Years Do," as its narrator, voiced by guitarist Caleb Smith, offers a gently unfolding meditation on the passage of time that looks both backwards and forwards:
I don't mind things that don't matter these days
Time I've spent on worry never pays
Now the leaves are changing from green to gold
So I'll change with them, I'll be so bold...
Stuck out on this limb, dancing with the wind
How I long to be evergreen
And while there is a full measure of songs that feature the smooth, flowing grooves and burnished harmonies for which Balsam Range are renowned, there is a new emphasis on, and a bit of a new edge to the hard drive of straight-ahead bluegrass in songs like hit single "We'll All Drink Money" and an inspired reworking of the signature Waylon Jennings song, "Just To Satisfy You." There's even an exhortation - "all the worry in the world won't get you nowhere, so I wouldn't worry if I were you" - cast in the form of an old-time gospel-flavored quartet.
Kinetic Tone, then, serves to give long-time fans musical reassurance that, for Balsam Range, change has been good, and to grab the attention of a whole new circle of fans, too. Most of all, as the group prepares for its signature year-end "Art of Music" festival in Haywood County, Kinetic Tone is a bold statement that, for Balsam Range, the best is yet to come.
Pre-save, add or order Kinetic Tone HERE.