Buddy Melton, the lead singer for rising bluegrass band Balsam Range feels lucky to get to perform -- and not for the standard reasons. In 2012, he was involved in a 2012 farming accident that resulted in several procedures to repair his sinus cavity. Doctors were unsure whether the singer would sound the same as before. His first time back behind the microphone was an emotional moment.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen with the band. It was a cool moment to walk into the studio and reunite with the guys outside of the hospital and start working on new music again," Melton tells Billboard. "We did a song called ‘Wide River To Cross,’ which was a fitting song to do in lieu of all that. It was a special moment, and I think it brought all of us together, and I think it made us tighter as a band and appreciate each others’ talents more."
Balsam Range -- named after a mountain range in their North Carolina home state -- recently released its new album, Five, which showcases their rich harmonies and instrumental prowess. It also features covers of songs from John Denver, Mickey Newbury, Bob McDill and Dan Seals. In fact, their cover of McDill and Seals’ 1986 chart-topper “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)” was picked by the fans.
“We have an online community-type thing called Balsam Nation where people could sign up. We asked the people who followed us online what they wanted, so we recorded these bonus tracks, and this was one of them," says mandolinist Darren Nicholson. "It was just going out to our online community. We never thought about doing it on a CD because it was so famously done. But, when we would do it live, people would just go nuts for it. We thought maybe we should include it. It’s a great song, and it talks about something a lot of people can relate to. That’s the life of a great song -- when it makes an impact.”
Besides playing guitar in Balsam Range, Caleb Smith also makes the instruments that make the music. “I started in 2007, coming out of a job building homes as the economy was going south. I didn’t have anything to do over the wintertime. My dad had built a classical guitar in 1993, and he had some old books laying around. I’ve done carpentry and cabinet work all my life, and things like that. So. I decided I was going to build a guitar," Smith explains. "I bought the wood, and built a guitar. I was giving lessons to a guy at the time, and he wanted one. I sold a few online, and before I knew it, I was forty guitars behind. So, it’s turned into a job. I love it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I love what I do.”
Bassist Tim Surrett is one of the most in-demand session players in the industry, while banjo player Marc Pruett has been perfecting his craft on the five-string since first picking it up in 1962. “That’s a lot longer than most savings and loans stay in business,” he jokes. “I enjoy it. The banjo has been a real blessing to me. I might be the brunt of a lot of jokes, but I love the way the banjo sounds.” He was worked with several bands over the years, including playing on five albums with Ricky Skaggs dating back to 1974.
One of the biggest highlights for Balsam Range has been playing the Grand Old Opry's historic stage. “I literally listened to WSM Radio [the radio home of the Opry] every night of my childhood -- not just the Opry, but all of the programs. It’s always been a part of my life," says Nicholson. "I love walking down these halls and seeing everybody. I’m still a fan, and I still get nervous.”