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Reviews

October 13, 2023
 

Turn the Volume Down on Living

Daryl Mosley: Channeling Thornton Wilder, speaking to every town, every heart…

 

By David McGee

 

A LIFE WELL LIVED

Daryl Mosley

Pinecastle Records

 

It wasn’t so long ago that we last heard from Daryl Mosley: prior to the July release of A Life Well Lived, Daryl had graced the 2022 holiday season with a nostalgic new Yuletide tune, “An Old-Fashioned Christmas,” selected as a 2022 Christmas Stocking Stuffer in Deep Roots. Much like that song, and very much like the turf he explored so vividly in his acclaimed 2021 album, Small Town Dreamer, Mosley’s A Life Well Lived is rooted in traditional family values and small town culture that honors hard work but also cherishes a life balance promoting good health in mind and body. In celebrating that world, Small Town Dreamer and “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” anticipate the tender-hearted meditations and reflections Mosley offers on A Life Well Lived. What a breath of fresh air after the tumult attending the release of Jason Aldean’s reactionary, hostile—and formulaic—“Try That in a Small Town.” You might say he’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one: In Mosley’s small town, a musical Grover’s Corners, the fictional locale of Thornton Wilder’s classic play Our Town, in which Mosley plays the Stage Manager chronicling a self-contained world animated by the loves and losses, hopes and dreams of folks whose personal dramas play out well off the beaten path.

‘A Life Well Lived,’ Daryl Mosley, title track from his new album. Danny Roberts on mandolin; Tony Wray on guitar and banjo; Adam Haynes on fiddle; Jaelee Roberts, Sarah Davidson, Jeanette Williams and Riley Dotson on harmony vocals.

‘Back When We Were Boys,’ Daryl Mosley, from A Life Well Lived. Danny Roberts on mandolin; Tony Wray on guitar and banjo; Adam Haynes on fiddle; Jaelee Roberts, Sarah Davidson, Jeanette Williams and Riley Dotson on harmony vocals.

The song titles say a lot: “A Life Well Lived,” “Back When We Were Boys,” “Big God,” “Mayberry State of Mind,” “Working Man’s Prayer,” “The Bible in the Drawer,” “Nobody But Her,” “Thankful,” et al. Lively as it is, the backwoods soundscape is engagingly mellow, even understated amidst virtuosic outbursts, always serving the narratives first. And why not? In addition to Mosley’s own bass accompanying his warm tenor, the townspeople, if you will, include Grascals founder and Mosley’s co-producer partner Danny Roberts on mandolin; Tony Wray on guitar and banjo; Adam Haynes on fiddle; Jaelee Roberts, Sarah Davidson, Jeanette Williams and Riley Dotson on evocative harmony vocals, with Ronnie Booth supplying a affecting guest lead vocal in his weighty baritone on “Big God,” a bouncy, close harmony bluegrass spiritual celebrating the grace and salvation with which the man upstairs blessed a wayward soul, with the high spirits enhanced by frisky fiddle and mandolin solos.

‘The Bible in the Drawer,’ Daryl Mosley, from A Life Well Lived. Danny Roberts on mandolin; Tony Wray on guitar and banjo; Adam Haynes on fiddle; Jaelee Roberts, Sarah Davidson, Jeanette Williams and Riley Dotson on harmony vocals.

‘Walking Man,’ Daryl Mosley, from A Life Well Lived. Danny Roberts on mandolin; Tony Wray on guitar and banjo; Adam Haynes on fiddle; Jaelee Roberts, Sarah Davidson, Jeanette Williams and Riley Dotson on harmony vocals.

In the measured, fiddle-fired paces of “A Life Well Lived,” Mosley speaks of a grandfather, a “quiet man” with “so much wisdom beneath that farmer’s tan,” who’s the best kind of role model, advising his young grandson, “Choose the road less traveled every time you can/try to find the good things in your fellow man/never hesitate to stand up for the weak/and the bigger man’s the one who turned the other cheek/if you can say I’m sorry and learn how to forgive/you’ve had a life well lived…” The lessons don’t end there, and Roberts’s mandolin and Haynes’s fiddle, with the background voices easing in on the choruses, make for a memorable, heart tugging moment conveying a message packing a memorable punch. Against a rippling fiddle-and-mandolin backdrop in “Back When We Were Boys,” Mosley offers a warm reminiscence of carefree childhood days when “we didn’t realize we had it made/with a cane pole and a best friend in the shade/supper on the stove, no bills to pay/I wish I could go back just one more day…each day brought new adventures to explore…back when we were boys.” Mom and dad were “still young and strong, everyone was safe at home/in just a blink it all was gone/back when we were boys.”  These slices of life are beginning to add up. Then there’s “Walking Man” introduced in a matter of fact manner: “You could find him every morning on the sidewalks of our town/rain or shine it didn’t matter, Mr. John would make his rounds/he’d be visiting the shut-ins and the county nursing home/attended every funeral, paid respects to those gone on…” Which is but prelude to the defining character trait: “From Atlanta down to Selma and the streets of Montgomery/he would walk demanding that all men be treated equally/they gathered like a storm cloud rained down on D.C./brought change to a nation with a walking preacher’s dream…”

‘Mayberry State of Mind,’ Daryl Mosley, from A Life Well Lived. Danny Roberts on mandolin; Tony Wray on guitar and banjo; Adam Haynes on fiddle; Jaelee Roberts, Sarah Davidson, Jeanette Williams and Riley Dotson on harmony vocals.

The unwritten rule about reviewing records is not to let the lyrics write the review. But Daryl Mosley has created nothing less than a literary event with, not incidentally, captivating music supporting each chapter (or scene, if you will). In addition to those named above, the dramatis personae include two weary working men, one of whom beseeches God for the strength to carry on in the solemn “Working Man’s Prayer” (“and that’s all I ask in this working man’s prayer”), the other, in a kind of Twilight Zone moment, seeks a retreat from being “just a number…getting by on hopes and dreams” to simpler times where you “turn the volume down on living” and enjoy “quiet moments unrefined” as embodied in a “Mayberry State of Mind” (the loping music cleverly interpolates quotes from The Andy Griffith Show theme song, in case emphasis need be added to these sweet memories). Arguably the most unexpected cast member is a Gideon Bible, which, in “The Bible In the Drawer,” tells of its experiences changing lives of “a man from Indiana lost in drugs and deep despair” and a young runaway girl from Dallas,, both of whom takes the Biblical wisdom to heart and course correct after encountering those words. “Whatever you are seeking,” Mosley sings in the Bible’s voice, “I have just the answer for/it’s pressed upon my pages/I’m the Bible in the drawer.” There’s something transcendent within the ones and zeros on this CD: in speaking to the idyllic world he fashions here, Mosley reaches out to every town, every heart. You might say he’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one…





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