“Vibe over everything.” That was folk-blues singer-songwriter Justin Golden and producer Trey Burnart Hall’s mantra heading into the studio in mid-November 2023 to record “Golden Country, Volume 1” with Virginia bluegrass supergroup Devil’s Coattails. The idea of a record featuring mostly traditional music had been rattling around Golden’s head since well before the 2022 release of his critically acclaimed debut album Hard Times and a Woman. Hailing from coastal Virginia, with strong familial roots in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Ohio
It was vital for him as an artist to make a name for himself under his own name and original songs before spotlighting his influences. That patience paid off in immeasurable ways. Being on a world stage taught many lessons about the music industry and being a working musician. “I learned that folks would see me billed as ‘Blues’ and either expect me to play like B.B. King or Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.” He was flattered by the comparisons, but much of Golden’s influences harken back to the early days of the acoustic roots of Blues, Bluegrass, and Country music. Think more “people playing house parties or barn dances” than “ripping lead electric guitar solos”.
After his live acoustic shows, folks would often compare Golden’s style more to Bluegrass, Country, or Americana music, yet he was consistently left out of many of those lists. “I realized the genre lines have shifted and average listeners really don’t know enough about the roots anymore to truly understand where my music is coming from.” Folks don’t know the names of the early acoustic Blues giants like they did 20 or 30 years ago. Most people have never heard of Blind Boy Fuller, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, or even Taj Mahal these days – let alone know what their music sounds like.
Perhaps the most important lesson Golden has learned along the way is that music should be fun. “I can just have fun now. I’ve reached a point in my career and life where I’m well-regarded for what I do. I’ve found MY voice as an artist, and I am excited to share the music that shaped me so people know where I’m coming from.” That sentiment was how Golden Country, Volume 1 came to be.
In August 2023, Golden was set to perform at a showcase for local Richmond, VA record label, Vocal Rest Records (The showcase was called Vocal Rest Fest). The idea for this show was to team up with Devil’s Coattails and do a four-song set with the full band. Devil’s Coattails consists of members of Richmond, Virginia’s top bands Trey Burnart Hall (mandolin, tenor banjo, electric guitar), Chris Gatens (upright bass, clawhammer banjo), Drew Barnocky (drums, washboard). Due to Golden’s busy touring schedule, they were only able to rehearse once. That rehearsal was just a few days before the show, but it went off without a hitch. “The vibe was electric. You could feel the energy in the crowd. It was one of the best shows I played in all of 2023,” Golden says.
Immediately following their showcase performance, Justin Golden and Trey Hall discussed recording a collaborative record featuring Devil’s Coattails as the backing band. Frustrated by the lengthy album rollout he experienced with his debut album in 2022, Golden imposed a few rules on this recording process. First, the album needed to be both recorded with live takes and released within a couple of months. “I want the record to capture the energy we created on the Vocal Rest Fest stage.” Golden says. Second, and most importantly, “Vibe over everything”. Golden didn’t want there to be extensive overdubs or comping of parts. “You get players this good in a room together, and something magical just happens in the moment especially when they’re under the wire and thinking on their toes. I wanted that lightning in a bottle sound” Golden explains.
The record also features guest musicians who’ve played with local heavyweights like No BS! Brass, McKinley Dixon, and Tim Barry such as Charlie Frise (trumpet), Stephen Roach (keys), Rudy Bzdyk (fiddle), Stephen Kuester (pedal steel), and Andrew Alli (harmonica). Recorded at Rabid Ears Recording in Richmond, VA over two days in November 2023. Engineered, Mixed and Mastered by Allen Bergendahl. The album’s 8 tracks include some classic and well-known sweet blues (“Midnight Special”, “Creole Belle”), some dance-worthy deep cut party songs (“Downtown Blues”, “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer”) and all-but-lost early romantic blues (“Bye Bye Baby”). These tracks do a great job of contextualizing Golden’s original offering, “Riverboat Blues” as well as his prior catalog releases.
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