There is Bill Monroe bluegrass, there is modern bluegrass, and then there is bluegrass by The Coal Porters.
The Coal Porters were formed during 1989 as a country rock band. A move to England changed their musical direction. Now their style can best be described as a fusion of bluegrass and folk music, or alternative bluegrass if you want a label. While there have been personnel changes, today the basic band consists of Sid Griffin (vocals, mandolin, harmonica, and autoharp), John Breese (banjo), Carly Frey (vocals and violin), Neil Robert Herd (vocals, guitar, and Dobro), and Tali Trow (vocals and bass). They have just released their latest album, Find the One.
The band has always been noted for their original material but here they cover two classic rock tunes. The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” has been a part of their stage act for years and they finally got around to officially recording it with a subtle yet somewhat frenetic version. There is also an acoustic take of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which is a perfect accompaniment for the campfire.
The songwriting skills of the members have always been a strength of the band. “Hush U Babe/Burnham Thorpe” is a trip back to the American Civil War period as it spins a tale of the Underground Railroad. The guest musician on the track is the legendary English folk artist and guitarist extraordinaire, Richard Thompson.
The other original songs tend to meander along, with stops at 1960s Top 40, traditional bluegrass, and country, yet are united by the basic non-electric approach of mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar, and bass (but no drums). Through it all their tight harmonies support the personal, poetic, and incisive lyrics of such songs as “Never Right His Wrong,” “Heroes,” “Farmers’ Hands,” “Ask Me Again,” and “Gospel Shore.”.
It was a wise decision to hire John Wood as producer. His work with the likes of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, and The Incredible String Band provided the means for a perfect tune-up for the Coal Porters. The album has a live feel and the production is impeccable, which highlights the contributions of the members both individually and collectively.
The Coal Porters are a band that has found their niche and seem comfortable with it. They have the ability to create material that is true to their musical vision, which is also entertaining. Find the One is a fine introduction to their sound and music.