Starting with the basics of bluegrass and doubling down on the tempo and energy while mixing in elements of improvisational rock, progressive country, blues, and jazz, Mountain Heart proved to be one of the most influential acoustic acts of the new millennium. Mountain Heart were formed in 1998 by three veterans of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver -- Jim VanCleve on fiddle, Steve Gulley on vocals and guitar, and Barry Abernathy on banjo -- along with Adam Steffey on mandolin and Johnny Dowdle on bass. The group released its self-titled debut album on Doobie Shea Records in 1999, and a second set, The Journey, appeared in 2001. By that time, Jason Moore had replaced Dowdle on bass, and Mountain Heart jumped to Skaggs Family Records for their third album, 2002's No Other Way. No Other Way earned Mountain Heart Album of the Year and Entertainer of the Year nominations from the International Bluegrass Music Association, and 2004's Force of Nature was also shortlisted by the IBMA; the latter album also introduced guitarist Clay Jones, who joined the group in 2003. The 2006 album Wide Open found Mountain Heart moving further away from traditional bluegrass into new territory, and the group began making a number of personnel changes over the next few years. Steve Gulley stepped down as vocalist and Josh Shilling joined in his place, while Clay Jones departed the lineup as Clay Hess took over on guitar, and Aaron Ramsey took over on mandolin after Adam Steffey moved on. In 2007, the band issued a live album, The Road That Never Ends, recorded during an appearance at the well-respected folk venue the Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The live disc was released by Rural Rhythm Records, but 2010's That Just Happened saw Mountain Heart taking control of their recordings by launching their own label, MH Music Group. By the time the band returned to the studio for its next album, the lineup had been revamped yet again, with Josh Shilling on vocals, guitar, and keyboards; Aaron Ramsey on banjo, guitar, and mandolin; Seth Taylor on guitar; Jeff Partin on guitar, Dobro, and bass; and Molly Cherryholmes on violin and keyboards. The new edition of Mountain Heart announced that they would be releasing a studio album, Blue Skies, on May 6, 2016 via Compass Records, while the first single from the set, "Addicted," appeared in late February of that year. ~ Mark Deming
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