By David Royko
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
Tricopolis TRCD 0004
This is the third Bluegrass Etc. CD I have known, and the third that has knocked me out. When it comes to instrumental technique in the service of creative ideas, there is no better working band in bluegrass today. That their vocals are good is as much a relief as anything, since too often groups with chops to spare feature vocals from which I'd rather be spared. But no such apologies are needed here.
The current Bluegrass Etc. line-up is multi-instrumentalist/lead vocalist John Moore, whose main ax is mandolin; banjoist/fiddler/harmony vocalist Dennis Caplinger; guitarist Curtis Jones; and bassist/lead vocalist Wally Barnick.
The format for this disc is 6 vocal numbers alternating with six instrumental tunes, including two beguiling originals by Jones. The composers of the vocal songs are John Lowell, Hoyt Axton ("Evangelina"), John Hadley, and Hal Ketchum ("Someplace Far Away"), while the remaining instrumentals come from such sources as Monroe and Stanley.
The vocal tunes tend toward slower or mid-tempo, while the instrumentals supply the adrenaline kicks, and seems to be where the band likes to let loose with unexpected rhythmic and arranging ideas. Dr. Ralph's "Clinch Mountain Backstep" sounds terrific in this decidedly modern guise, sporting a stabbing, funkish rhythm that will delight fans of New Grass Revival--the latter's "Watermelon Man" came to mind during the "Clinch..." intro. This "Sweet Georgia Brown" is jazzy and jaunty, while their single-note banjo/mandolin harmony phrases lock in so tightly during "Roanoke/Wheel Hoss," you'd need a surgeon to split them apart.
One interesting sidelight for Chris Thile fans is that John Moore was Thile's mandolin teacher, and it shows, particularly when one listens closely to Moore's tone, where one hears hints of Thile, though it is actually hints of Moore that one hears in Thile.
Simply put, Bluegrass Etc. is essential listening for fans of contemporary or progressive bluegrass, and "Home is Where the Heart Is" is a perfect place to start.
(Tricopolis Records, 33261 Adelfa Street, Lake Elsinore, CA, 92530; e-mail: <[email protected]>; website: www.tricopolisrecords.com) DR