The Roys’ “Lonesome Whistle” – Bluegrass Done Just Right

The Roys – Lonesome Whistle
***½ (out of 4 stars)

Label: Rural Rhythm Records

To preview or purchase The Roys’ Lonesome Whistle on iTunes, click here.

Bluegrass music is at its best when multiple parts lead somewhere in continual interaction. The music becomes a promise fulfilled, continually arriving at a place that reminds you of somewhere you’ve been before (or if you’re really lucky, a place you love coming home to). Who better than a brother and sister music-making team to embody the intertwining rhythms and instruments of proper bluegrass music? What you get are two artists with one cohesive sound.

I’m talking about The Roys (Elaine Roy and Lee Roy) and their heartfelt and satisfying new album Lonesome Whistle. They may have started out as a Canadian bluegrass band, but The Roys are everyone’s now. (Lee and Elaine Roy were actually born in Massachusetts, but the family later moved to New Brunswick, Canada). They’ve been performing since each was 10. The Roys made their national television debut on last year’s Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon in Las Vegas; traveled to Bogota, Columbia, South America for a Compassion International mission trip; and garnered their second win as the ICM’s “Inspirational Country Music Duo of the Year.”

The Roys wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs on the album, and they co-produced the album with Andy Leftwich. They have gathered together a collection of impeccable musicians (including Mark Fain, Justin Moses, Randy Kohrs, Cody Kilby, Steve Brewster and of course, Andy Leftwich – one of the most gifted fiddlers around) and ended up with some timeless new songs. They also brought in Ricky Skaggs & members of his Kentucky Thunder into the studio.

On Lonesome Whistle, their harmonies blend and their voices cleanse. Listening to the uplifting album makes the time fly; I would have liked even more of these songs. On repeat listening, not once was I reaching for the “forward-to-the-next-track” button on my CD player. They have a down-home, natural style that is given room to breathe in this straightforward album.

My personal favorite (and a song I really hope finds its way to music video form) is “Give A Ride To The Devil.” It’s a classic story-telling song that warns that if you “give a ride to the devil, someday he’s gonna wanna drive.” It performs a basic function of a good bluegrass song — through narrative it shares a basic truth that can help some poor fool from having to learn a lesson the hard way. What more can one ask for from something so entertaining?

I had the opportunity to interview The Roys about their new album…

GV: What was the first song that each of you ever wrote?
Elaine: The first song that I recall ever writing was for my mother called “Mommy’s Little Girl.” I was 14 years old and I sang it for her on a Mother’s Day program we had at our small church. The lyrics were a letter to my mom as I moved away to Nashville, following after my dreams. Little did I know years later that would become a reality.
Lee: I was about 10 or 11. It’s a song called “The Bar Stool.” Not sure why at that age I was writing a drinking song.

GV: Bluegrass music is more popular than ever — what is it that makes a great bluegrass song “great”?
I think for me what makes any song great is if it touches my heart, makes me think, or just simply makes me smile. I love songs with messages or a great story. Music is the universal language and whether it be a bluegrass song, a country song, a gospel song or whatever. If it pulls those heartstrings, it’s a great song.
Lee: I think it needs to have a good melody, great lyrics & be real.

Greg: Lonesome Whistle covers a lot of territory, both in the subject matter, and in the approach to the music. How did you choose the songs for the album?
When we started talking about this album we knew right away which songs we wanted to put on it. Some of the songs we’ve had for 4 years sitting around, and this was the album that they were meant to be on. It wasn’t a hard process to pick the songs because we really felt strongly about them and felt they were just a great fit.
Lee: Elaine & I sat down with the songs that we had picked and looked them over, the process is pretty easy with us.

Greg: Lee, can you share you thoughts on “That’s What Makes It Love”? (Ricky Skaggs and The Whites provide harmony on this beautiful song).
I co-wrote this song with my buddy Morry Trent. We wanted to write a song for Ricky Skaggs… or something that would sound like song he’d do. I had the hook laying around and we just started to talk about different situations that show love at it’s best. 

Greg: And Elaine, can you tell me something about “Trailblazer,” and what inspired you to write it?
Lee, Steve Dean and myself were set for a writing appointment… and Lee left me hanging! I was a little nervous going into a song writing appointment with Steve Dean since he has written some big #1 songs. I really wanted to bring something to the table and the day before the appointment I was stuck in traffic and in front of me was a Trailblazer SUV and that title really stuck with me. It made me think of Dolly Parton cause she is definitely a trailblazer. So the next day Steve, his daughter Bethany and myself sat down and I told them of my idea. We wrote it for dreamers like myself and for all those “trailblazers” in life.

Greg: Is there any one song that you are particularly partial to on this album?
“Coal Minin’ Man.” I love the fact that we were able to paint their lives in a bright light. All too often their stories are only heard when there is a tragic situation. We have been told by coal miners that that’s why it’s one of their favorite songs about their lifestyle. They truly are some of the hardest working people — true salt of the earth.
Elaine: I love all the songs on this album because I know where they come from. One special one is “Everything I Ever Wanted” because it was written with our mom in mind. The night before a writing appointment with Lee and Steve Dean, I was watching TV and saw an artist I really admire. I talked about how she was everything I ever wanted to be, and as I said it I glanced over to a picture of Mom. I got a big lump in my throat and realized I was admiring the wrong woman! The next day I told them of the idea and they loved it. Though the song takes a whole other twist it relates to all Moms out there.

Greg: I heard you’ve made a video for “Coal Minin’ Man.” When will we be able to see it?
Elaine: It’s done and being serviced now. Can’t wait for everyone to see it!

Greg: Before the interview is over, I have to ask about one of your more admired singing performances — the National Anthem. You’ve sung it for the Red Sox at Fenway Park, for President Bush at Andrews Air Force Base and during the NASCAR Truck Series at the Kansas Speedway. Is your version available anywhere?
Not that I know of. We’ve done it a few times but I don’t believe it was recorded.

Greg: What do you hope people will appreciate about this album?
I feel like we’re coming home with this album. Anyone who has followed our journey from the beginning knows this is exactly who we are. I am proud that we have always recorded music that comes from our hearts even though sometimes it may have not been the best career move for us. I hope this album will touch someone and make them feel something and also bring a smile to their face. We have always tried to keep our music on the positive side of things. There is such negativity in the world that I hope when someone listens to our album, it takes them away from their daily trials for just a little while.
Lee: The hard work we put into each and every song… The truth behind them and the reality they bring. I hope they hear the love and passion we have for bluegrass!

All people have to do is listen to Lonesome Whistle and they’ll hear it, all right. It’s an album created by artists who have taken the time to figure out just who they are, and what they want to make music about. Their positive message is in every note, and their souls whistle through the spaces in between. It’s a ride well worth taking.

To visit the official website for The Roys, click here.

(The Roys — Lee Roy & Elaine Roy. Photo credit: Anthony Ladd)

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the world for Parcbench... from the Biennale in Venice, to Centre Court in Wimbledon, to Rhythm & Roots Reunion in Bristol, Tennessee. He is based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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About Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the world for Parcbench... from the Biennale in Venice, to Centre Court in Wimbledon, to Rhythm & Roots Reunion in Bristol, Tennessee. He is based in New York City and frequently on the road.
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