Mountain Whispers may be one of those “small” publishers that barely make enough to justify their existence, but all audiobook fans should certainly applaud their existence and efforts. Their attention to detail and devotion to making superior-sounding audiobooks often means their products embody what fans think of when they think of audiobooks. Their latest production, Lost Highway, merely reinforces this.
Following the lifelong career of Sapper Reeves, a banjo-playing country musician, this audio novel follows the span of his career from the middle 1940s all the way through the 1990s. This journey includes time spent with his two partners in the Still Creek Boys and their adventures on the road, traveling the countryside, performing wherever someone will pay them—including a bowling alley. Their work yields some fruits as they gain gigs on radio and even make a record. But Reeves’ life on the road has also been hard on his wife, Riva, and his child, Bobby. Through a separation and reunion with her, Reeves learns about life and love.
Ross Ballard II provides the voices for this production and, like his previous works, proves that his slightly prominent Southern accent adds authenticity and familiarity to his work rather than detracting. Voicing numerous characters including the other band members, Reeves’ wife, and virtually everyone else, he manages to make each one distinct. The son, Bob, seems to be the one voice that does not work. Ballard delivers Bob as a child just fine, but in Bob’s adulthood, Ballard’s voice feels lacking.
In addition to the marvelous narration, the sound effects also raise the bar. MountainWhispers.com has proven themselves time and again a master of background noises to which they subtly slip. In so many scenes, background noise such as crickets at night or chatter in a bar truly envelop the listener in the scene. Amazingly, while I sat in the car listening to this audiobook with a friend at night, I turned off the CD player and my friend flinched when the sound of the crickets disappeared, believing it was the surrounding nature and not the surrounding speakers.
Of course, since this audiobook is based around music, it wouldn’t be complete without its fair share of music intros and even snippets of songs. The country music often blended with folks talking or cheering makes listeners feel like they are at the concert. At the end of the story, several of the songs are played out in their complete form. One of the most interesting approaches to this audiobook comes in the introduction. Typically listeners are greeted with the title, author, and publisher information before jumping into the story. Some dramatized audiobooks might do a brief piece of the story before the introduction, but Lost Highway goes several minutes into the story before providing the introduction. Surprisingly, it works. When all is said, the entire sound crew deserves medals for the production just as much as Ballard.
While the story is interesting, it lacks a certain uniqueness for the general reader. Country music fans will find it much more relevant. But the quality of the production genuinely propels the story to a wider audience and provides another great example of an audiobook’s true potential.