Dry Branch Fire Squad82161-0466-2
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
With Hand Hewn, Dry Branch Fire Squad offers another great collection of tunes covering a variety of traditional music and new music with a traditional sound. While there have been some changes in the lineup of the group in recent years, they continue to be one of the finest and most engaging groups in bluegrass music today. |
Opening with a classic song by Stephen Foster (Angelina Baker), they take us through the Civil War (Atlanta Is Burning), on the open seas (Sailor's Return), across the open range (Midnight The Unconquered Outlaw) and into the dark coal mines (Black Lung). Each step of the journey is taken with the tight harmonies of Thomason, Mary Jo Leet, Charlie Leet, and now-departed member Suzanne Thomas. When hearing Dry Branch, one wonders why more bluegrass bands don't offer a multi-gender lineup. It adds a fresh dimension to the harmonies, as well as a whole new path of songs where the main character is a woman. Hazel Dickens lends her voice on her tune Black Lung. Thomason and Dickens singing together is worth the price of the disc all by itself.
With Midnight The Unconquered Outlaw, Thomason offers a glimpse into his love of horses, singing poignantly of a rodeo horse who earned his freedom to roam the range. Midnight was a proud, free spirit, much like Thomason himself.
There are also Dry Branch's bone-chilling harmonies on gospel tunes, especially the a capella I Can Go To Them. Turn the volume all the way up on this one. And for those of us lucky enough to see the Squad in person, there is Thomason displaying his hambone virtuosity on Papa's Billy Goat. I've been lucky enough to see them twice this year. Thanks for the birthday song in Enumclaw, WA, Mary Jo.
While a studio recording, Hand Hewn captures the energy and strength of their live performances. Until they get to your hometown, here's the next best thing. Hand Hewn is another great effort from Dry Branch Fire Squad.