When you stop to think about it, two of America's finest harmony singing forms are bluegrass and barbershop, with doo-wop coming in a close third chockablock with the jazzy oeuvre represented by such as the Andrews Sisters, Manhattan Transfer, etc. Well, here we have a group that blends solo singing, harmony, instrumental dexterity, and lively rhythms for another great Rural Rhythms release, a fivesome effort based in Randall Massengill's vocals and Stuart Wyrick's banjo.
Mike Ramsey adds in a hellaciously complex mandolin atop Tim Tipton's propulsive bass flanked by Matt Leadbetter and Massengill's guitars, making that intertwining sound so beloved of bluegrass. The group is based in gospelgrass, an integral part of the entire genre, and pretty serious about that. As with such things, devotion comes out strongly in the music, and it's difficult to listen to Brand New Strings' music without feeling the tug of their heartfelt spiritual emotion…even if you're an atheist.
But the musical elements are so exact, playful, bouncy, and riveting that no one can resist the songs themselves, whether the listener's religious or not. Not only does the band pick some great material but writes very well indeed on top of it all. I'm going to guess that Mona Ramsey is the wife of Mike Ramsey, but, regardless, she came up with the sparkling When my Feet Touch the Streets of Gold, one of the CD's best cuts. A surprise element is Gram Parsons' Wheels. Gram, untimely taken (of a drug OD) at age 26 and an important figure in country rock, has had a rough time among genre players but is slowly coming to be more widely adopted.
As a critic, I've historically been shy about lauding corporate concerns—save for enterprises like ECM, EG, etc.—but, as the major labels crumble of corruption and bad business models, it's becoming evident that indie enterprises like Rural Rhythms are taking up the slack, demonstrating amazing perspicacity in their rosters, keeping the true-est art of music solidly preserved. Brand New Strings, part of that enterprise, is an aggregate of extremely adept players with a powerful focus and strong sense of identity that produces flawless playing and truly fine singing…and the humorously convincing cover art, posing the release as a faux set of guitar strings, shows they also have an earthy way about them, something quite readily heard all through the disc.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles