All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: Greensky Bluegrass - Five Interstates

Greensky Bluegrass - Five Interstates
2008, Big Blue Zoo Records

Kalamazoo, Michigan is the home of Greensky Bluegrass, dubbed “the next jamgrass superstars” by Planet Bluegrass. Consisting of Anders Beck (dobro, lap steel); Michael Arlen Bont (banjo, vox); Dave Bruzza (guitar, lead vox); Michael Devol (acoustic bass, vox) and Paul Hoffman (mandolin, lead vox), Greensky Bluegrass plays an exciting and traditional sounding style of bluegrass with a modern feel. Winners of the 2006 Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Contest, Greensky Bluegrass are an in-demand band with a unique sound and delivery. This is never more apparent than on their latest album, Five Interstates.

Greensky Bluegrass opens with Old Barns, a wonderfully arranged song about the dignity of life and how it doesn't fade even with age. Vocalists Bont and Hoffman has a wonderful voice that fits perfectly within the instrumental cover the band gives, and the musicianship is top notch. Into The Rafters features some of the best guitar and banjo picking I've heard all year, and I would be very surprised if this song didn't get significant attention from internet radio, NPR and other like entities. Songs like Reverend and 200 Miles From Montana show off Greensky Bluegrass' distinct ear for melody and moving vocal harmonies, but Indian Trail begins to show the real depth of the band's songwriting. This five-plus minute instrumental is driven in large part by banjo and acoustic guitar, creating some glorious musical moments along the way. Complex melodic runs and transitions result in something of an instrumental master class for listeners.

Just To Lie is nothing if not blatantly honest, and might be the best overall songwriting on the disc. I'd love to hear this tune interpreted with Celtic instrumentation, as those roots are very evident here. Train Junkie brings Bluegrass a half-step closer to The Blues with a dark tune about life on the road. Greensky Bluegrass dances on the edges of High Lonesome on Can't Make Time, showing off tremendous harmonies and a melody you won't be able to escape. Greensky Bluegrass scores big points with a delicious cover of Jimmy Martin's Freeborn Man and some of the hottest picking of the year, regardless of genre. Midnight Mass For Albert takes on a somber, martial air before breaking into Dry County, a tense, minor key bluegrass arrangement. Things get brighter as Dry County plays out, but it's a highly intriguing segue way. Against The Days decries the passing of time and watching moments and memories slipping to the wake of time. The song reaches for old ways of doing things as a dam against the passing of time; it's a great tune full of a resigned melancholy while holding out hope for a deliverance of sorts. Greensky Bluegrass goes out on a high note with What's Left Of The Night, an upbeat song full of hope and opportunity. It's a great closer and something of an exclamation point on an unbelievably coherent and energized album.

Greensky Bluegrass nods enough to tradition to avoid thoroughly disengaging the Bluegrass establishment, but also injects their music with a wonderful energy that hints at a more popular feel. In spite of the fully acoustic arrangements there are several songs on Five Interstates that might have enough to make the jump to Country radio. Instrumentally, Five Interstates encompasses some of the finest work to cross my desk in 2009. The songwriting is strong, and Bont and Hoffman have fine, clear voices that are an absolute pleasure to listen to. Greensky Bluegrass is a band you'd better get used to, because if all goes well they're going to be around and in the public eye for a long time. Five Interstates is brilliant; a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Greensky Bluegrass at or You can purchase a copy of Five Interstates as either a CD or Download from

No comments: