In the abstract, it’s almost surprising that bluegrass, a form of music so resolutely resistant to change, devoid of drums and relying heavily on male harmonies, should continue to exist at all. But when the music is infused with such sincere love and played with the kind of palpable joy that Brand New Strings bring to their latest outing, it seems the most natural thing in the world.
Its basic parameters unaltered since Bill Monroe almost single-handedly established the template in the 1950s, Bluegrass has that timeless quality that makes even new songs sound old. Its insistence on all-acoustic instrumentation – guitars, mandolin, banjo, string bass – and intricately woven harmony singing are definitely the trappings of an earlier era. And lyrically it’s based on the tried and true – love (mostly of the heartbreak variety), home, family and faith – all stuff that endures, topics that don’t depend on fad or fashion.
Brand New Strings are definitely a traditional-sounding outfit. Adhering to the standard instrumental lineup, with a little help from fiddler Ron Stewart, they deliver a platter that celebrates the simple life, with faith and family given equally prominence. Guitarist Randall Massengill and mandolinist Mike Ramsey contribute the bulk of the originals, but in truth their songs sound as though they’ve been passed from generation to generation. Also included is a wonderful re-working of “Wheels,” a classic honky-tonk shuffle here given the high lonesome treatment with excellent results.
Sure, it’s been done before. But the sound is classic, with sublime harmonies – voices and instruments blend and weave together seamlessly – and the picking throughout is exemplary. Brand New Strings aren’t trying to reinvent bluegrass, nor are they attempting to expand the genre’s musical palette. Rather, they’re working within robust and time-tested parameters, relying on skill and honest, heartfelt expression. And No Strings Attached works on every level.
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