Trouble With the Grey
4½ stars (out of 5)
By Larry Stephens
This is swing-grass (a description shared by mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff)—or maybe jazz-grass, there’s just no other description. There are strong elements of Bob Wills in their music along with some jazz influences, all packaged together with bluegrass overtones. If you’ve been around awhile (a nice way of saying you have some years on you) then you’ll hear some of the melodies of famous sister acts of the past, like the McGuire Sisters. Listen to Too Blue’s “Face the Music” and then to “Sugartime”.
Their instrumental work is very good, smooth and flowing. Betsy Rome may not be Tony Rice clone but she does a strong job on her breaks. Joan Harrison turns in a good performance on banjo. Michael Sassano plays mandolin and Jamie Doris is a star on the upright; his break on “I Fall To Pieces” is a good example. Multi-instrumentalist Rob Hecht makes several guest appearances on fiddle.
Most of the songs are originals by the band members. They don’t sound much like bluegrass but bluegrass is ancillary to their repertoire, not their main point in musical life. If you have a family member who goes to bluegrass festivals with you but listens to something else on their iPod when you’re not looking, play this CD for them.
“Grace’s Fancy/Murphy’s Rag” is a good listen and I find it interesting because it’s a juxtaposition of two numbers by Sassano. Most examples of paired songs I’ve seen are traditional numbers, not newly (as compared to a traditional tune) composed tunes. “Turnpike Reel” is another song moving at a good clip and showcasing their picking talents. “Twister,” by Sassano, features a lot of trade-offs between the band members and again showcases their talents. And if you want to hear some tough upright bass just listen to “How Long Must I Wait For You.” Jamie is working overtime and Hecht adds a jazzy fiddle break in between verses by
the McGuire Sisters Joan and Betsy.
The title song is a fusion of jazz and blues at breakneck speed (and listen to that bass!). Close your eyes and you can picture couples jitterbugging or some other dance I could never do. The most recognizable song is “I Fall To Pieces.” Instead of the sultry, blues-laden Patsy Cline version they give us Asleep At The Wheel. It’s a good conversion, though those of us who have listened to the original for a few decades likely won’t be converts. Closing out is yet another speedster, “Mice In The Camper.” (A pervasive problem, but that’s another story.) This is yet another illustration of their picking skills.
Call it jazz-grass or swing-grass, it’s all good.