Let's start off with the presentation on this one, as the art direction is stunning, a Photoshopped masterpiece of tantalizing graphics well composed, colors layered perfectly, toned to a fare-thee-well, the entire piece prompting the consumer to stop in his or her tracks and have a look-see. That's exactly the entire purpose of art re: music product. Mission accomplished. It's the work of Anthony Ladd, with whom I've had my differences, oft to the point of fisticuffs, but credit where credit is due: this is the sort of creation artists hunger for and which only the best art houses produce. Now, why he left the band's name off the frontispiece, I have no clue, seems against all reason, certainly contra marketing psychology and branding, but perhaps that enticement to look it over will have the prospective buyer flipping it around where…um, the band's name also almost goes missing, entered only as an afterthought, solely in a web address. The moniker 'Trinity River Band' does, however, appear on the spine. Regardless: what a killer job otherwise, pure visual magic.
The band, presently releasing under the Orange Blossom imprint, has yet to be reviewed in these pages, so it's past time to remedy that. Better than Blue is a rarity in more ways than one, the first being that it's executed by the Harris family: Sarah, the striking redhead on the cover, Joshua, Brianna, Lisa, and Mike. The second aspect lies in the very strong infusion of elder country strains into the bluegrass baseline, forming an unusually satisfying progressive slant in that respect. Experiments with country music are tough to pull off, more often failures than otherwise, but this ensemble obviously understands the old virtues and sews them neatly into an even more hallowed overcoat. Then there are Celtic undertones and influences, such as in the beautiful Willie and Mary, half madrigal, half Irish folk (that part of the world had very strong influences on the American colonial musics from which bluegrass sprang—listen to jigs and reels and see why), a cut Pentangle and Steeleye Span will much enjoy, not to mention Enya.
Barefoot Breakdown, the instrumental follower, underscores those influences and origins even further, an exercise in tempo and dexterity, everyone getting a chance to show their chops. In the classic Mystery Train, the atmosphere doubles up to breakneck speed, Josh Harris' banjo work shining, Sarah wailing beside him. A Sinner's Prayer becomes an affecting balladic reworking of 'The Lord's Prayer', sensitive and wistful, impassioned to be free from human Earthly defects, living in grace. Once you get halfway into this CD, you see why this band, first performing in local Florida churches in 2008, decided to go Big Time in 2011, swiftly garnered a very enthusiastic following, and will most likely, with Better Than Blue, their sixth release, become top drawer contenders in the increasingly sterling bluegrass realm made so fiercely artistic and impossibly pristine by the PineCastle and Rural Rhythm labels. This indexes right into that zone.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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