Liam Purcell and Cane Mill Road ”Yellow Line” (LP)

The second album from Liam Purcell and Cane Mill Road, Yellow Line, consolidates the band’s position as one of the pre-eminent bluegrass outfits today. The young Purcell possesses gifts far beyond his years as he’s just now enjoying the afterglow of graduating from the prestigious Berklee College of Music. He’s surrounded himself with a five-star cadre of like-minded musicians keenly capable of conjuring traditional bluegrass strengths while propelling the style into a bold new future. The album’s twelve tracks are an eclectic mix of purist performances and inventive stylistic departures that never venture far from the genre’s strengths. This unique balancing act is one of the things that makes Yellow Line one of 2024’s most gripping releases.


Songwriting strengths are another noteworthy attribute. “Yellow Line” opens the collection with a daring thrust into the future. Opening releases with the title track, usually a definitive moment for any release, is an assertive stand for Purcell and Cane Mill Road that shows their confidence. They have good reason. The imaginative arrangement takes several twists and turns along the way without ever losing its essential bluegrass spirit. Cane Mill Road bassist Jacob Smith writes the track “No More” and leans on traditional bluegrass subject matter. Alcohol as a coping mechanism for heartache is, to be fair, fodder for innumerable songs in popular music spanning multiple styles. Smith’s composition captures a ribald moment with direct, conversational language that Purcell’s singing gives an appropriately desperate edge. The brisk pace helps make it an invigorating listen.

Longing is one of the dominant themes driving Purcell and Cane Mill Road’s material. “Homesick for Virginia”, written and sung by band member Colton Kerchner, is the album’s second single and steeped in that emotion. There’s an unified voice emanating from the band’s material, no matter the author, and “Homesick for Virginia” shares many of the same strengths distinguishing other cuts. The Darrell Scott-written track “Uncle Lloyd” has a strong singer/songwriter aesthetic. It’s a nuanced character study with a much more expansive bluegrass backing than Yellow Line’s more traditional outings. Songs like this rank among the sleeper moments on the release, and you shouldn’t overlook it.

“One Man’s Dream”, the third of Purcell’s four songs written for the collection, ponders the price of greed and progress artfully. There’s nothing heavy-handed about it. It’s one of fiddle player Ella Jordan’s finest performances, and her presence throughout the song elevates an already outstanding cut several rungs up the ladder. “Last Place to Go” begins in a spartan fashion and, like the earlier “Uncle Lloyd”, develops along a much clearer singer/songwriter trajectory than other tracks. It gives the band’s penchant for excellent lyrics a much-deserved spotlight.

“Crooked as You Go”, Yellow Line’s first single, burns just as bright when heard in the context of the full release. This Sam Stage-written track shines for a variety of reasons. However, its chief merits are breakneck instrumental interplay and exemplary vocal harmonies that win listeners over from the first. It illustrates the band’s love of traditional bluegrass and the distinct modern flavor permeating their oeuvre. Liam Purcell and Cane Mill Road are building impressive credentials one release at a time, and Yellow Line provides ample evidence of their continual growth.

Mark Druery