It would be quite the understatement to say that Bill Emerson is well versed in the traditions of great bluegrass music. As a founding member of The Country Gentlemen with a career reaching back to the 1950′s, the five-string banjo whiz is an industry veteran who has recorded with various groups under various names. The Touch of Time is his third album release since forming the Sweet Dixie Band in 2007, which brings him together with the talents of Teri Chism (vocals and upright bass), Wayne Lanham (vocals and mandolin), and Chris Stifel (vocals and guitar).
The Touch of Time builds on a reliable formula of mixing original tunes with some well-chosen covers, with some rousing instrumental tracks added to the mix. Indeed, the band displays impeccable taste in covers, while imbuing the songs with their own creative musical arrangements. On this twelve-track set, we are treated to a Sweet Dixie version of the Leroy Preston-penned hit “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train” - a song that was popularized by Rosanne Cash in 1980, becoming her second number-one hit. In addition, the trio resurrects an obscure Dolly Parton song, “Highlight of My Life,” which was an unreleased album track on Parton’s classic 1974 album Jolene.
The instrumental tracks in particular are a joy to hear. Emerson and Sweet Dixie cover the traditional song “Little Pink” with palpable enthusiasm. Emerson himself contributes three of his own compositions to the project, with one (“Home Sweet Dixie Home”) being a co-write with Bill Evans. In addition, Chris Stifel’s songwriting pen supplies the album’s title track - a beautiful, wistful reflection on the short and fleeting nature of life. Another high point is the aching “Today I Turned Your Picture to the Wall” – a sorrowful moving-on tale with subtle shades of bitterness, with the brokenhearted narrator’s resolve perfectly summed up by the song’s excellent title phrase.
Shining with top-notch bluegrass musicianship and unshakable group dynamics throughout, along with consistently strong song material, Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie’s The Touch of Time is a definite keeper.
BILL EMERSON & SWEET DIXIE’S SCORE: 8
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)
Top Tracks: “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train,” “The Touch of Time,” “Today I Turned Your Picture to the Wall”