Junior Sisk is enjoying a hot streak as a bluegrass performer – henceforth his recent IBMA win for Male Vocalist of the Year. Joe Mullins is also enjoying much success inside bluegrass circles both as an artist and as a radio personality. But, as the old adage states, sometimes two voices are better than one – as evidenced by the recent release of their collaborative effort, "Hall of Fame Bluegrass." Sisk says he has been itching to work with Mullins again since his last release.
"On my last CD, The Story of the Day I Died, I called on Joe. I've been following him for a long time as he's one of my heroes in bluegrass music. I got him to sing a song with me called 'Lover's Quarrel.' I thought the blend and the fit sounded really well. We went from that to Joe mentioning 'Why don't we cut a record?' We're both on Rebel Records, so we started talking and passing thoughts back and forth. That's how it became what it is today," he says.
For Mullins, it is a mutual admiration society. "I found his vocals back in the 90s, and we got acquainted about eighteen years ago. I thought then 'If there is ever an opportunity, I want to sing with that guy.' His vocal is so powerful and passionate, especially among today's vocalists. That's why he won the Male Vocalist of the Year award. Being on the same record label, they gave us the freedom to come up with an idea. We got to thinking about some of our favorite songs from the first and second generation bluegrass guys that hadn't been covered or current bluegrass fans hadn't heard in fifteen or twenty years. We started digging around, and found a set of material that suited us vocally and instrumentally. It really came together as a pretty good collection. Of the thirteen songs, we touch over twenty-five members of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame."
One of the highlights of the album is the peppy and joyous " I'm So Happy." Sisk admitted that positive songs in bluegrass can be quite rare. "There's a lot of sad songs. It's hard to write a happy song. For some reason, more songs are about tragedy or bad relationships. Actually, Joe came up with that one. We had several Reno & Smiley songs to choose from, and he brought it to my attention. It had been a long time since I had heard it."
Mullins was very familiar with the song. "I had played it on the radio. I do a radio broadcast in Ohio each day when I'm not on the road, and feature bluegrass gospel for an hour and regular bluegrass for an hour. Don Reno's gospel songwriting was fantastic. To our knowledge, that song hadn't been covered of all his Gospel work. It worked really well for us. It's just a real happy song, one of celebration."
Sisk says while they tried to pay attention to the detail of the original recordings, they did have to adapt a few things to their style. "We had to change several of the songs around to fit our style. A perfect example was 'There'll Be No Blind Ones There.' It was done a little quicker with a happier upbeat to it. It seemed like a sad song, and we turned it in to 3/4 time."
Over the past few years, both artists have seen an influx of interest into bluegrass and roots music – with good reason, notes Mullins.
"I think a whole lot of mainstream music became very generic and homogenized over the last few years. I think with the advent of satellite radio and the Internet, and all the resources that allow us to hear what we want whenever we want to hear it, folks have sought quality over quantity on their own. They want to hear something that connects to them, with a little bit of edge to it. Johnny Cash is more popular today than he was twenty years before he passed away. That;s one of the greatest American Roots artists ever. The same people that discovered Johnny Cash might very well discover the Stanley Brothers or Junior Sisk because they are looking for something authentic, and this album is full of authenticity. I hope this album allows us the opportunity to make some new fans for some of our heroes, as well as those that are still our contemporaries like J.D. Crowe, Del McCoury, and Doyle Lawson. I hope they are satisfied with our efforts, because it was a labor of love."