While our fair town’s spirits are lifted because of the upcoming Macon Days, some may think it’d nice to stay on that old-time cloud as much as possible while anticipating the July festivities. Readyville, Tenn.’s, Johnny B. and the Balladeers’ newest album, Music at the Mill: Vol. 1, is a great way to help keep the merry morale afloat. Ripe with old-time/traditional/country-western feelgood vibes, Music at the Mill stands as a good, rough representation of what these genres are supposed to be about. The album’s 20 tracks (they only list 19 on the case’s back cover, so happy hunting for the gem, listeners) were all recorded live on the premises of Readyville Mill by Johnny B and the band.
The band came about after Tomm Brady, owner/operator of the mill, began producing his own organic flour for use in the mill’s restaurant, which opened soon after an extensive restoration in 2011. This accomplishment left Brady with an idea: Live music during breakfast would fit in perfectly here. So, in comes guitarist/banjoist John Blankenship to round up a sextet that year at Brady’s request. This request formed a serenading string band made up of Gary Redmon on guitar and fiddle, Billy Yearwood on mandolin, Sarah Frizzell on percussion and fiddle, Ken Frizzell on harp and Avent Lane as “bass player deluxe” (as well as the album’s recording engineer). John Blankenship handles lead guitar and banjo, while every single one of the six Balladeers holds their own, vocally, throughout. You get the sense that each member could be a one-man/one-woman band, yet collectively, they comprise a pleasant force to be reckoned with over a plate of fresh hotcakes.
“Since our inception, we have stayed true to an original, yet diverse, American music experience that is unrehearsed, unplanned, from the heart, and is truly live and organically natural,” says Johnny B.
The opening track, “She Gives Dumb Blonde a Whole New Meaning,” gives listeners a humorous, upbeat place to start, but these guys don’t waste any time getting to more traditionally-titled originals like “You’ve Still Got a Heart to Break,” “It’s as Right as Wrong Could Be” and the album’s ode to its inspiration, “Readyville Mill.” Among the band originals, written by Blankenship with help from other band members, are recognizable old-time numbers such as “Home on the Range,” the folk staple “Tom Dooley,” “Streets of Laredo” and the always soothing “Salty Dog Blues,” with the Balladeer spin put on each. As another bonus, the delightfully homey sound of the eatery’s atmosphere is audible in the background, meaning it’s fairly common to hear the “occasional crashing plates, laughter, conversation and hubbub,” as Johnny puts it. The background noise is an additional ingredient in the organic mix, establishing the Balladeers as the raw, real deal and creating a very fun and relaxing atmosphere that would fit in just right at Macon Days.
Information about Johnny B. and the Balladeers, their schedule at the Mill’s eatery (usually 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, though the mill has closed during the summer months) and where to grab a copy of Music at the Mill, can be found at johnnybandtheballadeers.com or readyvillemill.com. Hard copies of Music at the Mill: Vol. 1 are also sold at the Mill, and, with a little luck, Vol. 2 will be soon, too.