Jam Central Station 10.15.11: Buzzworthy Album Review – Greensky Bluegrass – Handguns
Hey everyone. Hope you’re having a good week. I’m getting ready to check out The Werks tonight (Friday) in Cleveland, and then I’ve got Umphrey’s McGee next week at the House of Blues. Good week. Anyways, here we go!
For the past few years, Greensky Bluegrass have been working their way up the ranks of the modern bluegrass scene. Since coming out of Kalamazoo Michigan 10 years ago, they’ve become well known throughout the “newgrass” music scene as talented musicians and solid songwriters. They’ve gone from a well-known regional band to landing spots on national jam band and bluegrass festivals. Handguns, their first studio album in three years, goes a long way to solidify their place as a bluegrass band to be reckoned with.
There are a lot of things to like about this new album. Over the course of 14 tracks and over an hour of music, the album hits on both traditional and contemporary bluegrass. Despite being a lengthy album, it doesn’t get stale. The band also does a great job of mixing up some fun drinking and party songs with some more serious subjects. They obviously want to be looked at as more than just a bluegrass group, and they certainly have the songwriting ability to go beyond “basic” bluegrass. However, that doesn’t mean that they abandon what has gotten them this far. While the new styles and the modern songwriting of the album might not be a traditional bluegrass fan’s cup of tea, they certainly add enough old-time elements to entice a straight bluegrass fan to give them a shot. There’s a lot of good on this album, and very little to criticize.
First and foremost, they do a very good job of mixing up the songs on the album. The lead track, “Don’t Lie,” has a great, bright feel to it. Other tracks such as “Cold Feet” “No Idea,” “Better Off,” and even the rather silly “Hot Dogs (On Parade)” echo that type of positive musical energy. Not all of these tracks deal with positive subject matter, but the style is primarily a fast picking bouncy bluegrass dance party. Greensky has been known as a high-energy, fun live band, and these really are the tracks on the album that reflect that.
But where I think this album really shines is when things take a darker (and often less traditional) turn. “Before Bring Out Your Dead” and “Bring Out Your Dead” is my favorite part of the album. “Before” would never be considered a bluegrass song, and “Bring Out Your Dead” is definitely on the forefront of the “newgrass” movement. “Jaywalking” starts out with a very old-time sounding intro before heading into what sounds to me like a classic drinking song. “Handguns” is in a similar vein, and I could definitely see these tracks on a jukebox in a smoky bar somewhere in rural Michigan. They even mix things up by adding some New Orleans jazzy horns to “I’d Probably Kill You.”
What is probably most surprising about the songwriting on the album, however, is the length of the songs. Over half of the album is near or over 5 minutes, and two of the tracks are over 7 minutes. This just isn’t what you would hear in traditional bluegrass, although it works for this album. They also do a great job for the most part of keeping the songs moving in the longer songs so they don’t seem repetitive.
As far as the lyrics goes, the band again does a great job of mixing up the positive with the poignant and even the humorous. Michigan ha been one of the hardest hit states by the current economic downturn, and “Lose My Way” is a great story about how that affects the people of the area. The theme of the song really reminds me of John Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow,” and it’s a theme that millions of people can relate to. However, some of the darker songs also end up with a hopeful message. “Beauty and Pain” is a great example of balancing loss and failure with satisfaction in the journey, turning around what starts out as a sad song. “Blood Sucking F(r)iends” and “I’d Probably Kill You” are both songs dealing with betrayal and revenge, although both have a certain amount of humor behind them as well. This mix of songwriting styles means that the album isn’t quite as cohesive thematically as it could be, but it adds a lot of diversity and keeps things interesting.
My only concern about this album really is the length. There’s simply a lot to digest with this album. While all of it is very good, I feel they could’ve cut a couple of tracks (probably the final two), closed the album with “Bring Out Your Dead,” and been just fine. The length just makes it very hard for me to see myself putting this album on and listening to it straight through on a regular basis. A little additional self-editing wouldn’t have hurt at all, and might have made for a stronger overall album.
But while too much of a good thing isn’t always good, it’s better than too much of a bad thing. Despite being a little excessive in length, the album is a collection of solid tracks that is a great representation of where Greensky Bluegrass is going and why they’re among the leaders of the newgrass movement. Handguns has its fun moments, its heavy moments, and quite a bit in between. This is an album that bluegrass fans will enjoy (the album debuted at #3 on the bluegrass charts), as well as fans of Greensky’s more progressive sound. These guys should see a lot of continued success from this album.
Furthur announce NYE plans
Lots of New Years plans announced this week, starting with Furthur. They’ll be doing a three-night run in the Dead’s home base of San Francisco at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on December 29-31. Internet pre-sale starts on Monday.
The Grateful Dead also announced the end of their “Road Trips” series of live releases. The final “Road Trips” release will be a release of the 6/9/76 show from Boston. This isn’t the end of official Grateful Dead live releases, just the end of this particular series. Look for something new announced in the coming months.
Phish to MSG for NYE
Phish will close out the year with a four-night run at Madison Square Garden from December 28-31. They haven’t done New Years at MSG since 1998. Fans can request tickets right now from Phish’s website or wait for the October 29 general on-sale date.
Lotus on NYE
Lotus will heading to Philadelphia for New Years Eve this year. They’ll be performing an “Evening with Lotus” set on New Years Eve at the Festival Pier. Not sure if this means no opening act, multiple sets, or what. There will even be a VIP option for fan club members looking for a little extra to celebrate the end of 2011.
The Black Keys announce El Camino
Akron blues rockers The Black Keys are getting ready to release their follow up to release a new album. El Camino will be released on December 6. The album was co-produced by Danger Mouse, who also worked with the band on Attack & Release. “Lonely Boy” will be released as a single later this month.
String Cheese Incident announce a new date
The String Cheese Incident added another show to their “Roots Run Deep” fall tour. They’ll be hitting Pittsburgh’s Stage AE on December 6. Tickets are already on sale for this show. It’s the closest that the band’s coming to me, so I may try to make it out, even though it’s a weeknight show. Glad to see these guys back on the road!
Warren Haynes announces initial Christmas Jam lineup
The 23rd Christmas Jam will take place on December 10 at the Asheville Civic Center. Gov’t Mule will get together for their first show since May, and they’ll be joined by Phil Lesh & Friends, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, and Los Lobos. Other artists will be announced soon.
Harvest Music Festival
October 13-16, 2011
Yonder Mountain String Band will host the event and play three sets. Other performers include: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Railroad Earth, 7 Walkers, Emmitt-Nershi Band, Traveling McCoury’s, Trampled by Turtles, Great American Taxi, two sets from Greensky Bluegrass, and many others. Tickets are on sale!
Southern Ground Music and Food Festival
October 21-23, 2011
This event will be hosted by the Zac Brown Band, who will play all three nights. Other performers include: My Morning Jacket, Warren Haynes Band, Brett Dennen, Del McCoury Band and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Steel Pulse, and many others.
Bridge School Benefit
October 22-23, 2011
Mountain View, CA
This annual concert will be hosted by Neil and Pegi Young and will benefit The Bridge School, which serves children with severe speech and physical impairments. Performers include: Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder, Beck, Mumford and Sons, and others.
October 28-30, 2011
Performers include: The Flaming Lips, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Passion Pit, Ghostland Observatory, Crystal Castles, Chromeo, any many others. Tickets are available now!
Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival
November 11-13, 2011
Spirit of Swanee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Performers include: Trey Anastasio Band, Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood, The Funky Meters, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Lettuce, and others.
December 10, 2011
Asheville Civic Center
Performers include: Gov’t Mule, Phil Lesh & Friends, Los Lobos, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones and others.
Bond-fire Art and Music Festival
December 30 2011-January 1 2012
Lake County, FL
Performers include: George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Soulive, The New Mastersounds, Particle, and others.
January 9-14, 2012
Departing from Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Performers include: Umphrey’s McGee, Galactic, Keller & The Keels, Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers, Toots & The Maytals, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Soulive, Railroad Earth, The New Deal, EOTO, 7 Walkers, Shpongle, Toubab Krewe, The Heavy Pets, The Everyone Orchestra, and many, many others.
January 26-30, 2012
Now Sapphire Resort and Spa
Mayan Riviera, Mexico
STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, and The Disco Biscuits will host this destination festival on the Mayan Riviera! Tickets (actually, rooms at the resort) are available now!
Panic en la Playa
January 31-February 4, 2012
Mayan Riviera, Mexico
This destination event will likely be Widespread Panic’s final shows before their hiatus. They’ll be performing a full set each night, and attendance is limited to 2,000. Rooms at both resorts are sold out!
Jam in the Dam
March 14-16, 2012
The Jam in the Dam returns! 2012’s lineup includes moe., Mike Gordon, Dark Star Orchestra, Lotus, and Keller Williams. Each artist will play each a full set each night. Tickets are available!!
March 23-25, 2012
Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band, Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Duo, Emmitt-Nershi Band, Hot Buttered Rum, Infamous Stringdusters, Great American Taxi, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others. Tickets are available now!
June 7-10, 2012
No news on artists yet, and super-early-bird tickets are sold out.
Newport Folk Festival
July 28-29, 2012
Ft. Adams State Park
Newport Jazz Festival
August 3-5, 2012
Ft. Adams State Park
August 3-5, 2012