Well, now that Rural Rhythms and I have had our knock-down drag-out over my excoriation of Mike Scott's latest eat-my-heart-raw-please-Jesus CD, I'm on the lookout for material that might rival that great label's prowesses. I mean, hell, there may be a few management a-holes over at RR, but ya can't fault its incredible roster of artists much, if at all—save, of course for the occasional repugnant pooter like Scott's. Thus, filling the gap looked at first to be a daunting task. I mean there's always Pine Castle and such, but…well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that bluegrass is one of the genres where the virtues of the independent market are so handily acing the mainstream, and locating killer work mightn't, after all, be such a tough row to hoe. Sure enough, I order Thomas Porter & Copper River Band's Trolley Days from the FAME List, and all the ducks line up in a row. It's a knock-out. These five drop-dead righteous pickers are unbelievably talented, and Porter's one hell of a writer and arranger.
One of the most sterling aspects of bluegrass music is its extraordinarily clean execution amid oft tempestuous time signatures and interlocking enneagrammatic lines from all concerned. Porter and the boys bring that into a new context, crafting old-timey rhythms in ways honoring every elder virtue while tuning them up to intrigue the ear with no end of modern polish and spirit, even hot jazzy (Belt Buckle Poliching Song) and sometimes almost country rock and rolly, as in That's a Fine Fine Banjo Mr. Brown, sounding as though a collaboration of Flatts & Scruggs, Poco, and Pure Prairie League, a combination that arises more than once throughout the CD. Still, underneath every song is that famed swing which more than one master has averred underscores all great musical work.
Then there's the delightful instrumental Chester Frost, which demonstrates how smartly the band can usher vivacity into a relatively simple tune. After, the religious God Bless my Home amply shows why Jesus music is so well hosted in 'grass, and even the folkie Why Me, strongly recalling old Spencer Davis / Peter Jameson refrains, casts a beautiful melancholy for the audience's appetites. Nice, nice, nice work. And while you're at it, you might want to check out Porter's single, Simple Box of Pine, not on the LP and a tribute to the passing of Vincent Collin Beach, a musician who loved working with kids, here fittingly remembered by the Jam Pak Blues 'N Grass Neighborhood Band, a collective of young musicians—and, good grief, how young is that tiny little girl with the fiddle in the front row??? Cute as a bug and already hoedowning! Too cool for words.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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