There’s no question that humble country bluegrass is a force for good in this world. “You Are My Sunshine,” “Keep on the Sunny Side” and anything T-Bone Burnett or Alison Krauss touches have all revitalized a simple but enduring American art form.

Many a breezy strummer has figured this out, however, and inevitably they make an album of the “classics,” thus adding another rendition of a canonical tune to the sea of existing interpretations. It’s like new acts are derivative on purpose, the old guard frowning on anything but straight readings.

Carolyn Hutton and Mac McHale have these golden, if limited, intentions in mind on their latest Taylor’s Grove release, “Keep on the Sunny Side.” The record is a collection of old-timey numbers that will surely please the sticklers. There are gentle mandolins, heads bobbing in concert, declawed guitars a-strumming all over. The famous title track is performed smoothly and with tight harmonies. Entirely pleasant, entirely risk-free. That is, unless you consider post-Rapture religious imagery risky, as in “When Heaven Comes Down” and “Kneel at the Cross.”

For whistling Dixie, this can be some heavy thematic material. KOTSS, in fact, is plump with exhortations, prayers and yearning. Sometimes, this exudes a strange majesty; other times, it can be cumbersome for the ears. Taylor’s Grove has been getting radio play in other parts of the country, but the Maine duo would be more interesting to this reviewer by using bucolic folk imagery and dropping the occasional blue note.

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.


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