Review: The Basstree String Band

The Basstree String Band have released a new CD featuring 5 tracks of traditional, soulful bluegrass.

The trio hail from Norfolk and Lincolnshire, with a lineup of Howard Burton on banjo, Mark Jones on guitar and Asa Hardy-Brownlie on bass. The band first formed in 2017, though Howard and Mark have been making music together in various forms for around 25 years. In recent months, they’ve been building up momentum with gigs, festival appearances and media coverage including an interview with Bluegrass Today.

The Basstree String Band

The band have gone for quality over quantity on this release, with each of the 5 tracks coming in at less than 3 minutes. But this is ample time for the group to show off their instrumental chops and tight vocal harmonies, putting their own spin on songs that have been performed by the likes of Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline and Jim and Jesse.

Old-style bluegrass is delivered in the form of Six White Horses, Them Blues is an upbeat toe-tapper, Seven Lonely Days offers a bluesy, early rock ‘n’ roll feel, while the vocal harmonies really shine on the melancholic If That’s The Way You Feel. The one instrumental track, Dixie Hoedown, gives the group a chance to showcase their technical skills, with some impressive banjo and guitar picking from Howard and Mark.

If you’d like to hear more, the album will be available to stream on all major platforms from September 19th. If you prefer your music in physical form, head on over to the band’s website where you can purchase the CD.

Review: Space Guitars by Pet Yeti

Album cover for Pet Yeti's Space Guitars

Pet Yeti release their debut album Space Guitars on September 13th.

Previously known as the Propane Brothers, the band have changed their name in anticipation of the release, but their commitment to producing tightly arranged, high-quality bluegrass remains the same.

Pet Yeti

Featuring members of Cup O’Joe, Cardboard Fox and Hot Rock Pilgrims, Pet Yeti brings together some of the best young talent on the UK bluegrass scene – Benjamin Agnew on bass, Reuben Agnew on guitar, John Breese on banjo, Kieran Towers on fiddle and Joe Tozer on mandolin. The majority of vocals come from the Agnew brothers, who create the kind of effortless, spine-tingling harmonies you’d expect from bluegrass siblings.

Space Guitars features eight originals, with all band members contributing to songwriting duties. Things don’t stray too far from the traditional, with energetic banjo kickoffs, fiery fiddle solos and lyrical themes of heartbreak, drinking and long journeys home. However, it’s clear the main influence is the more poppy, indie-orientated sound that’s developed in recent years – think Nickel Creek, Deadly Gentlemen and Joy Kills Sorrow. This is perfectly encapsulated in the title track, a fun ditty that closes the album with multiple Back To The Future references.

Album cover for Pet Yeti's Space Guitars
Space Guitars Cover Art

Three covers complete the track listing. Bluegrass/old-time standards Hello City Limits and I’ve Endured won’t raise too many eyebrows, but album opener Said I Loved You…But I Lied, a cover of Michael Bolton’s 1993 hit, might just unsettle a few purists (or even bring on a few pangs of nostalgia if you’re that way inclined).

Overall, this is a well-balanced album that offers a good dose of old-fashioned, hard-driving bluegrass combined with more modern influences. Exceptional cover art from Jacob Matthess rounds off the package nicely.

Space Guitars will be available 13th September 2019, and Pet Yeti will be playing a number of gigs to support the release. Visit the band’s website for all the details.

Review: Acorns and Toolshed by Ben Winship

Ben Winship in his toolshed

Ben Winship releases two albums on July 19th – his first solo work in 22 years.

The Idaho-based singer, songwriter and mandolinist is familiar to UK audiences having visited many times to tour with Growling Old Men and Brother Mule. Whilst those bands have released several albums in recent years, this will be Ben’s first solo outing since One Shoe Left in 1997.

Having taken so long to put these new solo projects together, Ben is going all out and releasing both albums at once. He explains, “I figured, why wait? Kind of like bread – I really want you to have it while its fresh. Plus, if I wait another 22 years, I’ll be pretty old…”.

Cover artwork of Acorns
Acorns

First up, we have Acorns, an extremely listenable and straightforward old-time affair. Acorns is mostly comprised of Ben’s original work but has a few traditional tunes and covers thrown in for good measure.

Filled with wonderful musicianship from the likes of Brittany Haas, Chris Coole and Rayna Gellert, this album was recorded live in just a few days and as Ben says, it celebrates “the community spirit of real time, spontaneous music making”.

Highlights include a brooding version of the usually upbeat New River Train, and the reflective Fit To Be Tied that segues sweetly into Sail Away Ladies. Ben also takes the opportunity to recreate some of his past work, with Brother Mule’s Katy Bar The Door and Growling Old Men’s Lily Green getting old-timey makeovers.

Toolshed cover artwork
Toolshed

With electric guitars, piano, drums and horn sections, Toolshed is a different beast altogether. It mixes blues, funk, dixie and folk, and in places is very reminiscent of Ben’s Fishing Music project.

As with Acorns, this album features lots of well-known names from bluegrass and Americana circles, with Mollie O’Brien and Joe Newberry contributing harmonies, and Britain’s Ben Somers lending his sax chops. A stand-out track is country-rock anthem Crossing The Great Divide, which employs a “pseudo-Band style arrangement” topped off with the soulful vocals of Infamous Stringduster Travis Book.

Toolshed strays a long way from the old-time of Acorns, but anyone familiar with Ben’s back catalogue shouldn’t find the material particularly shocking (the one exception being bonus track I Thought You Were A Goat #2, about which Ben confesses “my creative train veered SERIOUSLY off course…” – we’ll leave you to find out what that means).

Ben Winship

Though widely separated on a musical front, Acorns and Toolshed share some common themes, most notably perhaps, conservation and the natural environment – hardly surprising given Ben lives in the shadow of the Rockies. Phoebe’s Rest is inspired by Wyoming naturalist Bert Raynes, and Always The Mountain makes use of Aldo Leopold’s call for us to “think like a mountain” (a phrase recently adopted as the hashtag for rewilding projects in Scotland). What’s The Matter With The Well? is a lament about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, originally written in 2010 but included here because as Ben says, “it’s important to be reminded of this fiasco so that we can prevent anything like it from happening again”.

Whilst neither album is strictly (and some might argue, not even remotely) bluegrass, they are hugely entertaining listens and the impressive list of musicians on both recordings should pique the interest of any fan of the genre.

Both Acorns and Toolshed are released on July 19th. CDs can be purchased direct from Ben’s website, with digital downloads available at Bandcamp and streaming via Spotify.

Photo review: Man About a Horse

Man About a Horse continued their debut UK tour on July 6th with a stop at Bath’s American Museum and Gardens.

The Philadelphia band could not have wished for a prettier venue, with the audience seated around a grass amphitheatre and the stage surrounded by gorgeous plants and flowers. The weather thankfully played its part for this outdoor gig, with blue skies and soaring temperatures.

Man About a Horse
The picturesque amphitheatre and stage

Over the course of the afternoon, Man About a Horse performed two well-received sets of original and traditional material, along with a few covers by artists such as Gram Parsons.

A workshop filled the break between sets, with the band covering the history and mechanics of the music and explaining each instrument’s role, before performing a few numbers to demonstrate what they had just taught.

Here’s a few photos and a video from what was a very entertaining and successful event (click the photos to see full size).

Man About a Horse played Bath on July 6th 2019, and continue their UK tour until July 14th. Full tour dates can be found here.

Live review: John Reischman and The Jaybirds

John Reischman and The Jaybirds completed a UK tour this month, which included a stop at Manorbier YHA in Pembrokeshire on May 8th.

The North American band formed over 20 years ago and now have 7 recordings to their name. This intimate show was promoted by Pembrokeshire Eclectic Music Society, and featured two sets of captivating and superbly-executed bluegrass. The setlist included a good mix from the Jaybirds’ back catalogue, as well as a few numbers showcasing individual band members’ songwriting and instrumental skills.

The John Reischman fans in attendance were treated to a few of his most popular mandolin tunes including near-legendary waltz The North Shore, and Little Pine Siskin, a cute, endearing number that has become a firm favourite in UK bluegrass jams recently.

Here’s a few photos from the night.

Photo review: Bristol Bluegrass Festival

The Rosellys

Bristol Bluegrass and Americana Festival was held on March 1st – 2nd, and featured two concerts alongside workshops for banjo, fiddle and guitar.

The festival is held at The Folk House and is now in its 10th year. However, last year’s was cancelled at the last minute due to heavy snowfall, leading to doubts that it could be run again. This year’s festival was therefore extra special, a welcome return for an event that may have been lost if not for the courage and hard work of its organisers.

I had the privilege of being event photographer for the weekend, documenting the performances of seven acts who delivered a variety of bluegrass, Americana and folk styles. The best shots are below, or you can view the whole lot in this Flickr album.

The Hogranch
The Hogranch

The Hogranch
The Hogranch

The Hogranch
The Hogranch

The Rye Sisters
The Rye Sisters

The Rye Sisters
The Rye Sisters

The Rosellys
The Rosellys

The Rosellys
The Rosellys

The Rosellys
The Rosellys

Thunderbridge Bluegrass Band
Thunderbridge Bluegrass Band

The Often Herd
The Often Herd

The Often Herd
The Often Herd

Jonas and Jane
Jonas and Jane

Jonas and Jane
Jonas and Jane

Goat Roper Rodeo Band
Goat Roper Rodeo Band

Goat Roper Rodeo Band
Goat Roper Rodeo Band

Goat Roper Rodeo Band
Goat Roper Rodeo Band

Review: New CD from Joe K. Walsh

Joe K. Walsh is back with a new CD, a new beard and a new middle initial to differentiate himself from that other Joe Walsh that the internet always confuses him with.

Borderland is a collection of 11 songs and instrumentals and is a mellow, highly intelligent and beautifully arranged recording. As with Joe’s previous releases, it showcases not just his own abilities but those of many of his peers. In this instance, you will hear the likes of Courtney Hartman and Brittany Haas, both of whom also help with songwriting duties.

Joe is an accomplished mandolinist who can play full-on bluegrass as well as more technical and complex pieces without compromising on taste or seeming like he’s trying to outwit his audience.

This album mostly consists of original material, but there’s also a delightful version of fiddle tune Cumberland Gap, for which Joe cheekily apologises to the old-time police.

It’s all rather lovely and extremely listenable.

The album can be streamed and purchased through bandcamp.