Review: “The Lane Change” – Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers

album artThe Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers’ frontman Gary Antol (vocals & guitar) has been a full-time professional musician for over two decades now, but for the last several years has made a solid name for himself in the bluegrass scene.

Well-respected as a guitarist’s guitarist, he helmed such highly regarded acts as The Weedrags, and lesser known projects like Fiddlin’ Slim. It was his time in The Weedrags that brought him into contact with Libby Eddy, a classically-trained vocalist with a love of Old Tyme Appalachian fiddling, and a diverse music career of her own (The Weathered Road, 600 lbs of Sin).

These two would go on to become the core of The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, rounding out the lineup with fresh blood: Mitch Hall deftly claw-hammering the banjo, and Ed Croft making his mighty presence known behind the upright bass.

So, while The Lane Change is certainly not the first that we’ve heard from these accomplished musicians, it IS the first offering under the new moniker. And a solid offering it is!

Regarding music preferences, this particular reviewer is admittedly not the biggest fan of traditional bluegrass…and it has nothing to do with the absence of drums. Traditional bluegrass can have a very monotonous quality to it when played back-to-back-to-back. Fortunately, The Lane Change doesn’t take that approach.

Fear not, though! Fans looking for a good old fashioned hoedown will certainly find themselves stomping to several tunes on this record that fall into that category: a cover of singer/fiddler Roy Acuff’s “Night Train to Memphis”, the Keith McManus staple “Mannington #9”, the traditional “Sandy Boys”, and original tune “Checkmate”. And while these songs are performed with incredible precision, vim, and vigor…if the album were composed solely of songs in this ilk, then there would be nothing to cause it to stand out amongst the other many thousands of strict bluegrass albums.

Given the pedigree of the players behind The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, the last thing one should expect is a one-trick pony. And indeed, it’s the sprawling stylistic breadth that’s captured on The Lane Change that makes it so enjoyable. From the upbeat country lead-off track “The Legend of Gandy Grey”; the somber blues of Walt Aldridge’s “No Ash Will Burn”, and original heartwrencher “Old Red Hill”; the ’30s blues-jazz swing the drives the tongue-in-cheek “Beaumont Butler’s Blues” and “Jangly Jack”; this album covers a lot of ground, and always presents a different turn to keep the listener engaged, wondering what’s next.

Speaking of a different turn: When have you ever heard skat vocals through a kazoo before?! After hearing it, you won’t imagine any instrument choice having worked better.

A name change. A lineup change. A breath of fresh air amongst a genre that could use more unique moments, The Lane Change is an exciting launch into the next chapter from Antol & company. It’ll certainly be enjoyable to see where it leads.

Download The Lane Change from iTunes or your favorite digital music source OR mail order your copy by sending an email to:
Music Review by Eric George for Pennsylvania Bridges

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