Now, this is smokin' hot bluegrass! These guys come from Athens, Georgia, home to Widespread Panic, whose 2nd LP is never far from my turntable or CD player (I have both versions...um, and the cassette…okay, okay, so I'm kinda weird when it comes to my fave music, I admit it—if they put it out on 8-track, I'd have that too; I ain't apologizing). Not only that, but the Packway Handle Band is the one of the most perfect blends of trad, newgrass, and prog-grass I've yet heard, and FAME has been a great avenue for exposing myself to this genre, so I know what I'm talking about here. In fact, and Deadheads are gonna have a heart attack when I say this, Packway is exactly what I was looking for when I started to check out Garcia and the boys.
The quintet's tighter than a million dollar bill squeezed by a NeoCon and as hayseedy as Goober in Mayberry but astonishingly modern. I don't know how they do it. Completely faithful to the most intense instrumental traditions of Flatts & Scruggs, Roy Clark, the Weavers, and all the masters of the form, every song here is completely fresh while dripping with antiquity. Andrew Heaton is a wonder on the fiddle. He doesn't play a violin, not at all, his is a fiddle in all its scratchier glory, not a Jean Luc Ponty recital, and as loose, quick, and squeally as a greased hog lighting out for a hot mud wallow and all the sows it can rooster. Fans of Kansas and Robbie Steinhardt are gonna love this guy. The vocals—three of the lads provide 'em—are North 40 wistful and as bohunk Lutheran hymnbook churchy as one could ask. Guitar, banjo, bass, and banjo romp, sprint, and laze about (check out Earl the Duck for that last quality—hilarious, too), and that's when you realize—this is an all-string band! No drums, no harmonica, no sax, jes' strings, Jeeter, and plenty of 'em. More, every cut here is an original (though Satan's in Space has a Bill Monroe melody quote) but sounds like it was yanked from a Time-Life disc series of Americana. My fave cut? Can't Win for Trying. It ain't speedy nor fancy spangled, but, man, what a cool ditty! A melody and a folky slow-saunter ya just can't get out of your head...and don't want to.
So, the Packway Handle Band now gets stowed away with my Yonder Mountain String Band, Tommy Emmanuel, Chris Thiele, Redwing, and other killer bluegrass and bluegrassy CDs. Lemme just git into these Levi overalls, snug on the John Deere cap, grab a jug, jump behind the wheel of the pick-up, and we'll see if'n we cain't catch these good ol' boys in a bar down at the county seat. Last one there's a schoolmarm! Don't forget the Skoal, pack the Coors, and see if you can get Jessica Horwitz's phone number. She shor' sounds purty with that singin' on River Delta, 'n I wouldn't mind a spin or two on the dance floor with 'er.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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