On the Mountaintop with Balsam Range
by Shelby Berry
The majestic mountain range surrounding Haywood County, North Carolina where the Smokies meet the Blue Ridge made such an impression on a group of acoustic musicians, they decided to name their band after it.
“It just felt right,” said Darren Nicolson, mandolin player for the band, Balsam Range.
Since bursting onto the bluegrass scene, the individual musical backgrounds of these artists created a sound that eventually transposed bluegrass and acoustic worlds. Earning chart-topping tunes and multiple awards, including the coveted IBMA Vocal Group of the Year and Entertainer of the Year, Balsam Range is one of the most award-winning bluegrass acts, with IBMA awards and critically-acclaimed albums.
Their album, Mountain Voodoo, captures traditional, yet contemporary, sounds with fiery, alternating instrumental parts overlaid with the vocal harmonies. Debuting at number four, Mountain Voodoo (2016) remained on the Billboard chart for an incredible 19 weeks. Mountain Overture (2018) combines rustic and symphonic to produce a profound effect.
“We have always tried to make good albums,
pick great songs, and work on our live shows to make them even better,” said Darren. “I think our appeal is the unique sound of our band. We are influenced by all genres: country, rock, jazz, swing, old-time, and, of course, bluegrass. We try to weave all those things together to make Balsam Range a unique, American music experience.”
Among its many musical assets, Balsam Range has a full house of top-notch bluegrass singers who take turns singing lead, and combining harmonies that are fully rooted in tradition.
Buddy Melton on fiddle began his musical journey in college, learning to play his instrument. He played with Jubal Foster before joining Balsam Range and is best known for his unique tenor vocal.
Mandolin player Darren Nicholson has performed many times on the Grand Ole Opry with Alecia Nugent and has toured with many artists including The Crowe Brothers. Darren has won multiple IBMA awards and was nominated for a Grammy.
Marc Pruett on banjo is a Grammy award winner who played with Ricky Skaggs on many of his albums. He toured with James Monroe, Jimmy Martin, and The Whites, and led the Marc Pruett Band for ten years.
Guitarist Caleb Smith performed as a member of the gospel group Harvest before joining Balsam Range. During that time, he was awarded Male Vocalist of the Year at the PowerGrass Music Awards. Caleb is also a talented luthier, building Smith Custom Guitars.
Tim Surrett on bass and dobro is highly regarded in gospel music circles, earning a place in the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. He has performed and recorded with Kingsmen Quartet, Tony Rice, Ralph Stanley, and Vince Gill – earning him multiple awards for Gospel Musician of the Year.
Their album, Aeonic, released January 4, 2019 from Mountain Home Music Company.
“We want to entertain people, impact people’s lives in a positive way by sharing great songs, and enjoying making the music that we love,” said Darren.