"Good as Gold," the Country Gentlemen's new album, more than lives up to its name. This is their best work in a decade, chock full of superb songs meticulously arranged to showcase the band's traditional strengths -- impeccable picking, deft harmonies and Charlie Waller's achingly sweet tenor vocals.
Entering its second quarter-century, the band that brought bluegrass uptown has hit peak stride. What may surprise some is the fullness of the sound: Carefully selected guests, such as fiddler Carl Stone, guitarist Jimmy Arnold, dobroist Steve Wilson and supple drummer Robbie Magruder, augment banjoman Dick Smith, mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau (this is the first album since he rejoined the fold) and bassist Bill Yates, with Waller still providing the best rhythm guitar in the genre.
"ood as Gold" has a country/bluegrass edge, with many of the songs coming out of Music Row in Nashville. Among the best: "I Just Got Tired of Being Poor," Dallas Frazier's variation on "Mama Tried"; local Bill Danoff's sprightly title cut; and Johnny Rodriguez' "Hard Times (Ain't Half as Bad as Sad Times)" with its classic-situation set- up: "Hard times, no money / Sad times, no honey."
Other highlights include a sensitive reading of the late Stan Rodgers' folkish "Guysboro Train," a western-waltz version of "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" that contrasts with a western-swing version of "Detour," and a gospel trio reading of "When They Ring Them Golden Bells" arranged in an easygoing neo-pop style that almost turns it into a cowboy song. Oddest duck: a Yates-led reading of Don Williams' gospel-tinged "Lord I Hope This Day Is Good." You'll recognize the feeling. THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN -- "Good as Gold" (Sugar Hill SH3734). Appearing Friday at the Birchmere.