Nothing Lasts Forever review in FAME

This is Blue Line Highway’s third entry in FAME pages but their sixth release overall. The baseline Joy of Cooking mode of the group comes out very strongly in this largely live-in-the-studio work, and there’s a distinctive difference between it and the previous discs, nothing earthshaking but rather a more intimate rawness and immediacy despite the perennial mellifluity of the group’s work in whole—something, to take from Joy of Cooking’s brief catalogue, a little closer to the ground. The trait’s actually common to the uncommon practice of what used to be called ‘direct to disc’ recordings back when vinyl roamed the Earth. That engineering mode accounts for why music collectors like myself prize those bygone discs and their more modern manifestations: they’re honest. You can’t endlessly process the sound, twiddle pitch adjustments, dub in fills and ornamentation and such. What you hear is actually what went down, and it’s a rare glimpse short of seeing BLH, or any other group, in concert.

This process makes John Leedes’ electric and acoustic guitar and Doug Austin’s mando work all the more relished for their charted and on-the-fly lines (there’s an appreciable jam band presence in this sextet, an outgrowth of the bluegrass ethos: think String Cheese Incident, Rusted Root, etc. but not so whacked-out esoteric as Phish) and upfront freshness. Julia Dooley’s voice is ever the front instrument with Melissa McKenna harmonizing. As well, the latter is the more constant acoustic rhythm guitar in the mix, while the former tosses in some harmonica every so often. Don’t, though, mistake a sometimes very subtly backgrounded accordion for her harp. That there’s Joe Conner, ‘n his cordine’s a constantly floating presence, adds a lot of atmosphere, and what you may often think is a bass line is in truth Conrad Sisk and his cello, sometimes picking, sometimes bowing, always flowing.

Many more times than once, I was minded of the whole old San Fran and Fillmore sounds, especially in cuts like Into the Water, very free-spirited, breezy, and redolent of open fields and blue skies. Then the band’s It’s a Beautiful Day element compounds that, and the golden days of the 70s come rushing back. Don’t, however, think everything’s sweetness and light here. It ain’t. Catch Dark Vein and its troubling subject matter as well as Mother without a Child (very baroque, Viennese, and Kentucky afternoon simultaneously—along with Swamp Boogie, my favorite cut), an interesting reversal of the traditional ‘motherless child’ narrative. One last matter, however: the mix and balance, not to mention the overall tone, don’t quite measure up to the group’s previous work. While this change-up is perfect for duplicating 70s ambiance, it suffers in missing the richness of earlier releases, and that smooth velvety presence has always been a powerful quality in this ensemble. It’s not gone, it’s just on a bit of semi-hiatus.

“Almost Reel” review at

Tremendous guitar artistry greets the ear from Richmond, Virginia’s quartet, Blue Line Highway’s newest disc, “Almost Reel” – a folk-rock mixture of Americana, Southern acoustic blues, and coffeehouse pop that gets your toes tapping and your head nodding in agreement and enjoyment.

“Almost Reel” Review – by FAME
Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Written by Mark S. Tucker (
Edited by David N. Pyles (

Blue Line Highway has such an unusual tack on things that it relaxes as it stimulates. Their last CD was reviewed here in FAME and, since then, they’ve ducked back into the studio, but not in the expected fashion. Keeping the mechanics to a minimum, Almost Reel was performed basically as a live in-studio gig, imbuing it with a sparkling energy and flow that’s extremely easy on the ear while provoking foot-tapping and head bobbing. Think of America’s debut LP cut with Matthews’ Southern Comfort, a touch of Heart, some Plainsong, and a complex of Americana blended like ambrosia into mellow rock.

Helping out a sound that positively glows, Doug Austin, a letter-perfect instrumentalist with tremendous discernments, is again accompanying the band on mandolin and penny whistle, lending his magic to a group shining from all quarters. Joe Conner likewise re-upped, settin’ down with a tres cool accordion. Julia Dooley’s vocal work has entered its apogee, confident, gently swinging, airily colorful, and soothing. Several cuts are extended, and ya hafta catch the instrumental interplay in the last movement of You’ll Get Yours—man, that kind of oh-so-cool energy is rare nowadays! At 9½ minutes, Frozen North is the disc’s extravaganza, and the Phish element I mentioned last time around makes itself acutely felt. Very strong tangs of the Dead’s golden mellifluous improv crop up all over the place as well, alongside some great Joy of Cooking callbacks, Melissa McKenna singing behind Dooley for a Garthwaite/Brown mellow duet bop.

Almost Reel definitely marks the band coming fully into its own. John Leedes’ guitar work is impeccable, clever, and extraordinarily flexible, assuming a broad catalog of shades and styles. Bassist Ray Alfano assumes melodic invisibility in the quieter numbers, fitting seamlessly in, then erupts in jumping burbling lines underwriting the group’s more exuberant flights. Main writer McKenna’s acoustic guitar provides much of the even keel for the whole ensemble, and, like last time around, the lyrics are intelligent and often offbeat, never cliché even when comforting.

If there’s even the slightest drawback here, I’ve yet to discern it, and the engineer remarked that his job was a piece of cake. Part of that lay in the group’s attention to detail, carefully setting up a 16 microphone layout to catch everything perfectly, all in balance, nothing missed. The result is a very expansive sound that nonetheless achieves warm intimacy with a grin, a pensive glance, sometimes a philosophical scowl, and an afternoon’s saunter down country lanes with a headful of memories under blue skies fleeced with gauzy clouds, relishing the feeling that all’s right with the world…despite pesky humans and their fickle ways. We can use a whole lot of that right now.

Track List:
Cry (Melissa McKenna)
Time Goes By (Melissa McKenna)
A Modern Curse (Melissa McKenna)
You’ll Get Yours (Melissa McKenna)
Darts and Flowers (Julia Dooley)
The New Lease (Take Me to Gray-V) (John Leedes)
Almost Reel (Melissa McKenna)
Sally (Melissa McKenna)
Jenny (Melissa McKenna)
Frozen North (Melissa McKenna)
Goin’ on Here (John Leedes)
Flatbed Trailer (Melissa McKenna)

“A Perfect Curve” Review – by FAME
Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Written by Mark S. Tucker

Interesting group. There are traces of Phish and the jam band way of thinking to them in unorthodox approaches that are nonetheless highly melodic. There’s also a shuh-boom and swing, understated, that’s infectious as all get out, making the mellifluity which dominates the disc far more emphatic than would otherwise be the case. No matter where you go in it, though, A Perfect Curve is extremely refreshing, folky in an America (the band) fashion, smooth as Matthew’s Southern Comfort, and the sort of ensemble that would play at a block party and put smiles on everyone’s face.

Julia Dooley is the lead vocalist and encants in a somewhat basso register, carrying a bit of Martha Bates (Motels) to her as she spins out oft strange stories about odd people and off-center situations. Blue Line Highway blends rock, folk, MOR, Americana, and a number of other subtler influences for a sound that’s simultaneously unique and very very familiar. It is, in fact, the sort of métier we wish Terry Garthwaite, Toni Brown, and Joy of Cooking would’ve produced this solidly. Those elder muses hit it only every so often, and usually bluesier, but this band pitches a perfect game, with not one cut below any of its companions, a 11-spot of continually satisfying strains.

A Perfect Curve is excellent music for a variety of occasions: driving, background to a patio BBQ with friends, wine sipping, just about any application you might put it to. Dooley plays a harmonca and a bit of percussion while singing, Melissa McKenna handles guitar duties and back-up vocals, John Leedes duplicates her, and Ray Alfano carries the rhythm section in his bass, but the ensemble made a superb choice in Doug Austin and his marvelous mandolin (and violin), a crucial element in the mix, someone who should be a permanent member. Toss this on when ya wanna feel good, need a bounce in your step, and wanna walk through the day humming and snapping your fingers.

“A Perfect Curve”: Another Review
Amber Waves of Twang
Posted by Chip Frazier

Richmond based NewGrassers Blue Line Highway are a recent discovery that released an impressive album A Perfect Curve. It is a nice mixture of traditional and modern styling, along with acoustic and electric instrumentation. The band mixes Americana, Rock and a laid back blues vibe in a way that puts them in the NewGrass camp but they certainly have their on distinctive sound. Also, as is often the case in this sub-genre, there is a definite Grateful Dead influence. The songwriting is superb with catchy tunes and vocal harmonies. These guys certainly deserve more props than they are receiving.

The album has compelling folk tales like “Billy” and danceable rockers like “3 Ways to Go” Also they like to Jam and have the chops to pull it off. The mixing of Americana, Blues and Jam Band style gives them a style that is unique. By the way, it does not hurt that they are talented musicians. Blue Line Highway is: John Leedes (guitar and vocals), Julia Dooley (vocals, percussion, harmonica), Melissa McKenna (vocals, guitar), Ray Alfano (bass). Right now they are touring primarily in Virginia. However, I hope more folks will check them out so they can spread out geographically.

“A Perfect Curve”: CD review
The Muses Muse

Artist/Band: Blue Line Highway
Album: A Perfect Curve
Genre: Americana, Folk, Acoustic
Technical Grade: 9/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9/10
Overall Talent Level: 10/10
Songwriting Skills: 10/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: 3 Ways to Go, Sunshine, Sunday Shoes

CD Review: It has been just over a year since I reviewed this band’s previous album, Life In a Minor Key, and I’m glad Blue Line Highway is back. With A Perfect Curve, this mainly acoustic band has crafted, a vibrant, eclectic and occasionally electric release.

“Run Run Run” and “Billy” are a propulsive one-two punch to open the disc. “Run” stretches out, with some cool interplay between guitarist John Leedes and Doug Austin on mandolin. “Billy” is minor-key and eerie, and the harmonizing between Julia Dooley and Melissa McKinney is mournfully beautiful. McKenna’s gift as a lyricist is also on display on these numbers.

The bluesy “3 Ways To Go” and “All My Bros Blues,” both penned by Dooley, remind me of the work of one of my favorites, Jim Croce. “Sunshine” is a shiny songwriting contribution from Leedes, sort of like ’60s folk-rock yet played with acoustic breeziness.

Leedes nails his stringwork on “Sunshine” and lends tasty electric slide to “Bros Blues.” He is a deft and versatile picker throughout the disc – understated and elegant, with well-placed dazzling flashes, like Jerry Garcia.

“Sunday Shoes” is a nifty, bluegrassy folk rocker. McKenna’s lyrics are nostalgic and delightful, and on this one Austin trades fiddle runs with Leedes’ unusual electric guitar lines. The powerful “Snow Line” pounds with Steve Earle-like intensity – this time it’s Leedes adding backing vocals behind Dooley, and his playing shreds.

“Ridin the Sun” is a snaky departure, jazzy with Latin-like percussion. Dooley’s sultry lead vocal is one of the band’s most striking qualities, and it is in its full glory here. And after the stretched-out, jazzy/trippy “Fan Man,” the airy “White Winter Blues” brings the disc to a gentle yet haunting conclusion.

Blue Line Highway’s A Perfect Curve combines traditional acoustic/bluegrass sensibilities with jammy, rocking adventurousness. It’s a worthy follow-up to the offering I reviewed last year.

“A Perfect Curve”: CD review
Indie Music Stop
Written by Senior Writer C.W. Ross

Blue Line Highway is a band whose music refuses to be defined by just one style. To get a feel for their sound, imagine large doses of folk, bluegrass, American, classic rock and country with splashes of pop, jazz and blues also added in.

While a mixture of so many different styles things could easily turn in to a train wreck of noises. Through the band’s skills though they manage to produce a very cohesive sound that manages to pull elements from each mentioned style to create songs that not only just work, they work very well.

They also pull from music’s past like on track-3, “3 Ways To Go,” that has a bit of a 50′s rock sound to it. While listening to the song I could almost see Chuck Berry as the guitar parts were played along with some Jerry Lee Lewis type key’s twinkling coming from the song.

This album really gives the songs found on it the time needed to add in those little extra moments often cut out to make a song (time length wise) radio friendly. The 11 tracks found on A Perfect Curve probably average somewhere around 5 minutes with track 10, “Fan Man lasting a whopping 8:34.

I have a feeling that the song, “Fan Man” is probably one of the band’s favorite to play. Lasting that long gives each instrument time to come forward and take a little bow in the song’s spotlight.

While the musicians play their parts very well it’s the lead vocals of Julia Dooley that really take each song and makes it special with her vocal talents.

Fans of artist like, Rickie Lee Jones, the Carter Family, Arlo Guthrie, The Band, The Byrds, and Bob Dylan will really like the folk rock, American, and bluegrass mix that makes up the majority of the music found on Blue Line Highway’s A Perfect Curve.

Rating: 8.4 out of 10

Style Weekly Reviews “Life In a Minor Key”
Style Weekly, Richmond, VA
Written by Josh Bearman
October 24, 2007

Blue Line Highway has been a staple of the Richmond scene since 2001, frequenting our many street festivals and clubs. The band combines two close female voices, lyricist Melissa McKenna and Julia Dooley, a driving rhythm section consisting of Ray Alfano on bass and Kevin Pittman providing percussion, and the virtuosic lead electric guitar of John Leedes – arguably Richmond’s hardest-working musician.

Together, they craft a diverse mix of country, jazz, and bluegrass that is both lush and dramatic. The songs here are heavy on exposition, such as “River Canyon” wherein the choices of a woman’s life are presented in lyrics mysterious enough to allow for listener interpretation. The album seems high in spiritual content; much thought is given to the lyrical tales that in some cases teeter on the edge of melodrama. But overall, these songs demonstrate Blue Line Highway’s road-tested ability to straddle with ease the line between concise musicianship and songwriting prowess.

“Life in a Minor Key”
Indie Music Stop
Written by staff writer Paul Meeh

“Life in a Minor Key” is an infectious album,filled with outstanding musicianship and song sensitive performance. The production level is extremely high allowing each instrument it’s proper place in the overall mix, which is crucial in letting the rythm section and guitar really stand out. Lyrically, “Life in a Minor Key” is strong in several situations…

Immediately upon beginning, “Life in a Minor Key”, Deliver” shines with Dickey Betts-style guitar runs overlaid onto a driving rythm section. You get the impression that the band could easily make a living as a jam band, with a jazz-influenced Americana feel. Lyrically, “Deliver” is strong in spots: “I write letters, but rarely send them; I don’t know where to send them to” is particularly captivating in this section and this talent for lyric writing pops up throughout the album.

The theme of talented musicians…is carried throughout the remainder of “Life in aMinor Key”, with an exceedingly talented rythm section coming to the front in songs such as “Life in a Minor Key”, “River Canyon”, and “Bound”. Making congas and bongos into instruments, as opposed to just percussion, is an art in itself, and this is accomlished in “Life in a Minor Key”. The bass, whether electric or stand up, is well done throughout the album. Although obviously talented, the bassist plays only what is needed and not too much more, with small fills to remind you that he is present and gifted. The guitar tones and performances are faultless. Songs such as “Bound” display a real talent for song sensitivity, phrasing, and tone choice. There are flurries and runs mixed with some truly creative scale choices, which when combined with the tone selections give the impression of a Jim Hall/early Eric Clapton combination. The acoustic rythm guitar is ideal in all aspects, and the production quality does it real justice.

Taken as a whole, “Life in a Minor Key” is a success. “Life in a Minor Key”, “Deliver”, and “Everybody Knows” illustrate bona fide songwriting ability and outstanding musicianship. I would reccommend this album as a prelude to a second album, to become accustomed to the sound and style. A ripening of harmony, vocal phrasing, and key choice will go a long way toward making Blue Line Highway and extraordinary band.”

“Life in a Minor Key”
Written by Chip Withro

CD Review: Blue Line Highway is one of my favorite kinds of acts – that which combines the adventure and musicianship of a good jam band with catchy songwriting sensibilities. Life In a Minor Key fits into the folk-rock genre, yet the music spirals and soars in ways that make me want to hear what this band might do in a live performance.

The opening track, “Deliver,” cast its spell on me right away, with it pulsing tribal/psychedelic gallop. Chief songwriter Melissa McKenna’s acoustic guitar propels the tune, while John Leedes’ electric lead guitar dances around the edges. And Julia Dooley’s lead vocal slides between husky and bright, reminding me of Chrissie Hynde.

The title track and “River Canyon” are both jazzy in a gypsy sort of way. The title song stretches into a high mountain/funk hybrid groove fueled by Leedes’ stinging picking. “River Canyon” is a bittersweet flamenco/folk mix. Keven Pittman adds subtle hand percussion to both.

“Annie” is a nifty folk/pop rocker: Dooley, McKenna, and Leedes’ harmonies wrap themselves around the rich western imagery of the lyric. The whole album is filled with fine singing; another noteworthy example is the sadly lovely “Valentine.” To my ears, “Valentine” is filled with potential as an adult alternative hit, even though it’s long by single standards.

“Bound” is a snaky number that reminds me of old, bluesy Fleetwood Mac meeting the late ‘70s pop Mac, right down to the tense guitar interplay at the end of this stretched-out song. The guitars also crackle (and the vocals are passionate) on the slightly sinister “Heart Around.”

“Fish Fry at the Firehouse,” written by Dooley, is a fun party blues shuffle. Leedes fires off a countrified solo, and then comes one of my favorite lyrics lately: “You’re trying to slow her down, put that thing in reverse/it’s like trying to slow the motion of the universe.” Leedes’ “Green Haze” is achingly pretty, occupying a very cool, eclectic space somewhere between country and soul music.

The CD winds to a close with “Everybody Knows,” which is at the same time punchy and laid-back, like the great California country rock of the ‘70s but with a vibrant modern beat. What a great way to end the album: Dooley’s vocal is knowing and sultry, and Leedes fires off one last deft solo.