“Deep Waters” by the Lonely Heartstring Band

The Lonely Heartstring Band
Deep Waters
Rounder Records

3 stars (out of 5)

By Donald Teplyske

The modern bluegrass sounds of this quintet have more in common with Sierra Hull and the Infamous Stringdusters than they do the Gibson Brothers or Balsam Range. With roots established at the Berklee College of Music, the Lonely Heartstring Band emphasizes Beatle-esque harmonies and melodies within the constraints of the  familiar bluegrass music format of guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, and fiddle.

Original, effusive songs compose the bulk of the album, words bursting forth in staccatos of whimsy and rhyme. Though enjoyable, Deep Waters lacks the tension and energy of albums that linger within one’s memory. A take on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” reveals the group’s ability to create inventive tapestries of sound, singular banjo notes serving as percussive highlights within a richly embossed arrangement, while “Songbird” more closely sticks to the yearning bluegrass tradition.

The lively “The Road’s Salvation” is a strong, up-tempo bluegrass song, and the instrumental “Big Bruce” gives additional opportunity for each instrumentalist to step to the fore with a sparkling, expansive final chapter of bowed bass, fiddle, and mandolin. Their rendition of “If I Had a Hammer” is uninspiring: sedate and lacking vigor and conviction.

Patrick M’Gonigle’s fiddle contributions, on songs such as Dylan’s “Rambling Gambling Willie” and “The Tide” are especially appreciated. Perhaps a worthy attempt to marry the bluegrass and singer-songwriter traditions, the Lonely Heartstring Band is the bluegrass band Jackson Browne would front should he be so inclined.