The typically inviting environment of Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City was even more intimate than usual last night. The combination of single digit temps and a televised University of Kentucky basketball game likely kept away many of the faithful that usually devote Saturday nights to live bluegrass music at the venue. All we can say is being homebodies was their loss. Last night offered the return of David Parmley. The veteran guitarist and singer has been off the road since 2008 but returned last year with a ensemble full of sterling singing and scholarly instrumental fire called Cardinal Tradition.
The name references the great Bluegrass Cardinals, the band Parmley toured in beginning at age 17 with his father. Cardinal Tradition built upon the former group’s sterling vocal blend with Parmley’s deep tenor leads coloring the Louvin Brothers’ “Are You Missing Me” (with harmonies provided by bassist Ron Spears and mandolinist Doug Bartlett) and Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors.”
Cardinal Tradition also sported a profoundly clean and confident instrumental charge underneath all the vocal firepower. That was especially impressive given how the band’s fiddler Steve Day was sidelined only days earlier by a back injury. In his place was Steve Douglas, whose credits included tenures with such bluegrass stalwarts as Jim & Jessie and the Osborne Brothers, along with a legion of country music notables. His playing was as robust as it was effortless. But what was most astonishing was when Bartlett switched from mandolin to fiddle, providing Cardinal Tradition with a twin string sound that deftly navigated the treacherous traditional turns of “Monroe’s Hornpipe” and glided crisply through the Texas country lyricism of Bob Wills’ “Faded Love.”
Need more reasons to count Parmley and his band as the great new traditionalists of bluegrass? Then toss in Dale Perry’s deft turns on banjo during “Cripple Creek,” the patiently paced balladry of Randall Hylton’s “32 Acres” and perhaps the cheekiest version of “Long Black Veil” you’ve ever heard, with the verses staying true to song’s dark stoicism and harmonies illuminating a giddy undercurrent that enforced Cardinal Tradition’s resilient band spirit.