Po’ Ramblin’ Boys Announce Third Album, ‘Never Slow Down,’ and Premiere “Blues Are Close at Hand” Single

Popular bluegrass band Po ‘Ramblin’ Boys has refused to let the COVID pandemic slow their momentum, so an announcement to name their third album, which will be released on March 25 via Smithsonian Folkways, don’t slow down. The band is backing the release with their first high-energy single, “Blues Are Close at Hand,” which debuts today via American Songwriter, as well as extended tour dates across the US and Canada from this month through the rest of the year.

As with their first two albums (Back to the mountain (2016) and Toil, tears and trouble (2019)), don’t slow down Includes covers of old bluegrass songs as well as original material for the band. We like to search for old songs, [and] Certain songwriters from days gone by,” CJ Lewandowski (mandolin, vocals) tells American songwriter during a recent call. “We’re always looking for material that might be a B-side or definitely an overlooked song. You can honor people by making some of their material.”

The band’s new single, “Blues Are Close at Hand,” is a perfect example of this. Jeremy Brown (banjo, vocals) and Josh Rinkle (guitar, vocals) got their start playing bluegrass band Tommy Brown and County Line Grass. (Tommy Brown is Jeremy Brown’s father.) “Glen Alford was a mandolinist for Tommy in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and he actually wrote the song,” Lewandowski says. “People may think it’s a completely new song, but we’re actually hailing County Line Grass and some of the influences we grew up with, especially Tommy. I think it’s great that Jeremy sings a song that his father sang on an album twenty years ago.”

As for the band’s original songs, Lewandowski says with a laugh, “There has to be a touch of reality — we’re all really bad at lying. So there has to be some form or pattern of reality — we take from there and expand on it.”

Lewandowski thinks Josh Rinkle is the band’s most prolific songwriter: “He can pull things off just by driving him on the road. He’ll talk right into his phone, take notes, and come up with things fairly quick. He can write a song in fifteen minutes and it’s usually fine; you don’t have to go back; And change a lot of things.

I, Lewandowski continues: “I will write a chorus for something, and then I shall build a few verses about it.” “This is where I hang out and usually ask for the help of others. I can usually write a catchy chorus, and then I have to throw it to my friends and see if they help me move on from there.”

Lewandowski met Brinkle and Brown in 2008 when he began playing with different bands who were on concert bills with Tommy Brown and County Line Grass. They became close friends instantly, eventually leading them to form the Po ‘Ramblin’ Boys in 2014. They started as a home band at the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, playing five to seven nights a week. Although they had to play famous songs to please the customers, they always sprinkled their original material on the sets. (Ole Smokey Moonshine Distilleries turns out to be so supportive of the Po ‘Ramblin’ Boys that they’ve now officially partnered with the band, with more details to be announced on this over the coming months.)

The Po ‘Ramblin’ Boys grew to include Jasper Lorentzen (bass, vocals) and Laura Orshaw (violin vocals). Over the years, their reputation has grown, too, making them bypass the roots of their home bands. Their skilful approach and respect for bluegrass tradition have earned them critical praise for their albums, as well as prestigious honors including a Grammy Award nomination (for “Best Bluegrass Album” for Toil, tears and trouble) and several IMBA Bluegrass Music Awards nominations.

Lewandowski says it’s a profession he started training for at a very young age. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve been trying to sing,” he says. Growing up in Jefferson County, Missouri, he remembers being particularly influenced by his grandmother, who bought him a toy microphone and speaker when he was four years old. “It actually worked, so I can sing and have my voice heard.” It wasn’t long before his grandmother persuaded him to perform in front of the church’s congregation.

Then I found bluegrass when I was twelve years old [years old]Lewandowski says. “My best friend’s family loved bluegrass. His grandfather collected the banjo, so we found one day, and my friend started trying to play it. His grandfather came and said, ‘Either learn how to play it or just leave it away.’ So we got crazy and decided to show him something. That’s how We started playing.”

Lewandowski decided to play the mandolin because I thought Bill Monroe was the coolest thing in the world, and I still do. I saw a picture of Bill Monroe holding this mandolin, and I thought, “That’s the coolest guy in the world out there. I should get one of those.”

With the Po ‘Ramblin’ Boys, Lewandowski and his colleagues were able to celebrate the bluegrass masters who inspired them, as well as showcase their talents for songwriting and performance. With all that, Lewandowski says, they tried to be authentic and unaffected. “We’ve never tried to be anything we’re not — I think people see that and they like it,” he says. “Another thing is that we never tried to push anything. What we did was never planned. It happened. We were just going to be a home drip band, and then all this stuff happened, which is great. I think success lies in not pushing too hard. And to be grateful for what we have achieved so far.”

Photo by Amy Richmond / IVPR

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