Front Range, a contemporary bluegrass band, has set itself apart with lush three-and four-part harmonies, distinct instrumentation, and engaging live performances. First becoming popular in the early 1990s, they continue to please audiences with their mix of traditional bluegrass and eclectic contemporary music. Their steady release of albums has earned them both recognition and enduring popularity.
The band, which took its name from the front range of the Rocky Mountains centered in Colorado, where they formed in the mid-1980s, at a time when contemporary bluegrass (with its blend of traditional and progressive bluegrass) was taking root. The group’s four original members still comprise their current lineup. Bob Amos, lead vocalist, is also a songwriter and acoustic guitarist. While he had an early interest in music, he attended college and earned a master’s degree in geology, working as a geologist in Denver for a time in the 1980s. He has homes in the Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and in Vermont, locales that he draws upon when writing his lyrics. In addition to his work with Front Range, Amos also tours with the Bob Amos Band, and released Wherever I Go, his first solo album, in 1999.
Among the musicians on Amos’s solo effort was fellow Front Range bassist Bob Dick (the younger brother of Dave Dick, banjo player for Salamander Crossing). Dick studied jazz bass at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and honed his skills with several New England bluegrass bands, including the Tony Rice Unit. Ron Lynam, bass vocalist, banjo player and guitarist, has been with Front Range since 1985. Originally from Wichita, Kansas, he played in several local bands while an anthropology student at Wichita State College. Lynam moved to Colorado in 1978 where he worked as a carpenter by day and played in bands at night. He won the Telluride Bluegrass banjo contest in 1985 and was named Best Banjo Player at the Rocky Mountain Bluegrass Festival in 1997. Rounding out the Front Range mix is Denver native Mike Lantz, tenor vocalist and mandolinist.
Front Range released their first album New Frontier in 1992 on Sugar Hill Records, a label dedicated to blue-grass and traditional music. The release garnered immediate attention for its energetic mix of traditional and progressive bluegrass. Jim Caligiuri commended the album for the CMJ New Music Report, remarking that “While [Amos’s] songs have a strong traditional feel to them, the band’s playing is so vital and the harmonies so strong that the music comes across uncommonly fresh, rousing or deep blue as the mood allows.” The band quickly followed their first album with Back to Red River in 1993. Reviewing this second effort, Caligiuri emphatically declared in CMJ that Front Range is “[o]ne of the most exciting new bluegrass bands around.” Two notable cuts on the album are an a cappella gospel rendition of “Over in the Gloryland” and a high-energy version of “Sunny Side of Life.”
In 1995 Front Range released the gospel album One Beautiful Day, which won the International Bluegrass Music Association for Best Gospel Recording. The album helped solidify the band’s reputation for creating virtuoso instrumentation and four-part harmonies amid a masterful mix of original material and commendable versions of classics. Amos produced the band’s next release, Ramblin’ on My Mind, which returned to an eclectic mix of folk, western swing, blues, gospel, and even Celtic styles. The album stayed on the top ten list of the Gavin Americana chart for several weeks and remained at number three on the National Bluegrass Survey (ranked by Bluegrass Unlimited) for several months.
Maintaining their fresh and energetic output, Front Range released Silent Ground in 2000. Once again marked by a diverse sampling of styles from western swing to spiritual, the album contains both standards and original material from Amos and Lynam. While the album follows the same structure of their previous releases, reviewers commended the band for the consummate musicianship that continues to set them apart. Archie Warnock noted in Bluegrass Unlimited that “as Front Range’s career has progressed, they have matured and refined their sound, and successfully avoided the traps that have caught less talented or focussed bands.” He continued, “Strong original material sets Front Range apart…. Add their tight harmonies, thoughtful arrangements… and solid instrumental skill… and it all combines to make Silent Ground one of the most enjoyable recordings in some time.” Original material on the album includes Lynam’s western swing
For the Record…
Members include Bob Amos , lead vocals, guitar; Bob Dick , bass, baritone vocals; Mike Lantz , mandolin, tenor vocals; Ron Lynam , banjo, guitar, vocals.
Group formed in the mid-1980s; released first Sugar Hill Records album New Frontier, 1992; released Back to Red River, 1993; One Beautiful Day, 1995; Ramblin’ on My Mind, 1997; and Silent Ground, 2000.
Awards: International Bluegrass Music Association, Best Gospel Recording for One Beautiful Day, 1995.
Addresses: Record company—Sugar Hill Records, 501 Washington St., Suite A, Durham, NC 27701. Management—Front Range, P.O. Box 65, Winchester, VA 22604. Website— Front Range Official Website: http://www.frontrangenews.com
“Cowtown Boogie” and his instrumentals “Dust Devil” and “Silver Plume,” along with Amos’s “Montana Gal,” the Bill Monroe-influenced “Leave Me to Cry,” and the ballads “Silent Ground” and “The Sweetest Flower of My Heart.”
While Front Range’s studio output has been consistently praised, they are also highly regarded for their live performances whose up-tempo and entertaining sets draw crowds at concerts and bluegrass festivals throughout the United States and Europe. Commenting on their remarkable creativity and unique new sound, based on tradition and experimenting with original material, Allen Price observed at the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange online, “[Front Range] offer the classic elements of the great bluegrass bands: tight harmonies, precision playing and the thrusting drive that gives bluegrass its unique sound and feeling. But they do it with a twist.” Keith Rollag commented in the Northern California Bluegrass Society, “While many top bands are starting to sound the same (by using the same studios, producers, and guest artists), Front Range continues to forge their own path.”
New Frontier, Sugar Hill, 1992.
Back to Red River, Sugar Hill, 1993.
One Beautiful Day, Sugar Hill, 1995.
Ramblin’on My Mind, Sugar Hill, 1997.
Silent Ground, Sugar Hill, 2000.
Bluegrass Unlimited, November 2000.
CMJ New Music Report, June 26, 1992; August 2, 1993.
“Front Range,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 6, 2003).
“Front Range,” iBluegrass.com, http://www.ibluegrass.com (March 13, 2003).
“Front Range,” Sugar Hill Records, http://www.sugarhillrecords.com (March 13, 2003).
“Front Range,” Official Website, http://www.frontrangenews.com (March 13, 2003).
“Front Range: Silent Ground,” Rambles.net, http://www.rambles.net (March 27, 2003).
“Silent Ground,” Northern California Bluegrass Society (NCBS), http://www.scbs.org (March 13, 2003).
“Silent Ground: Front Range,” Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME), http://www.acousticmusic.com (March 13, 2003).