I'm a guy that thinks Generic folk rock string bands are a dime a dozen. Yep. Too much flannel, corduroy and polite unshaven young people playing banjos, guitars and fiddles out there. Not too many of these sorts of bands grab my attention -If memory serves Ohio's The Tillers were the last one that really grabbed my attention as of late...until now.
Hang on to your wigs and keys folks - because you're about be introduced to one of the best, brightest string bands from the great State of South Dakota- dare I say THE essential string band from South Dakota right now - The Union Grove Pickers.
I must admit - I had my doubts...why? Read the first paragraph...but as Erin Castle's voice breaks in on "Cannonball" along with an old time rock steady groove complemented by guitarist Tim Jewell's earthy lackluster baritone I was hooked. This group sounds GREAT. Simple, grassroots less is more songwriting combined with some tasty mandolin work by multi-instrumentalist Josh Rieck, solid upright bass work by Travis Jamison and KILLER female leads and harmonies by the beautifully voiced fore-mentioned Castle and Megan DoBoer.
This album is well suited; rather PERFECT for a drive down a plains highway with the wind at your back. Songs like the endearing "Bring on the Heartbreak"to the freight train boogie of "Milwaukee Blues" and my personal favorite "Take him Down" featuring a driving alternative flavored rhythm with gritty lead vocals and swooning Ooohs and Ahhhs from Castle and DeBoer. The wonderfully performed instrumental "Laura's Tune" conjures black and white photographs of spring romance and a country wedding in it's rootsy romantic themed picking. There's some magic here...this record sticks to the ears like great BBQ sticks to your ribs. It fills you up and leaves you hungry for more.
Furthermore, "Gambler's Grave" laments lyrically but it's hard not to smile and tap your feet to the rhythm as the music sounds way too happy for a graveyard...but hell, why can't a down on your luck folk number break the mold once and awhile? Likewise "It's not Sunday" adds some much needed bitterness and holy darkness to an upbeat album...it's probably the most out of place song in the entire bunch but still manages to fit in well with the rest of the material here and displays the groups' diversity. Thankfully "Crow Jane" kicks in with a nice harmonica to kick things back into gear just in time..even if our folk rock femme fatales have to "Shoot Crow Jane just to see her fall.." Let me tell you...even the song celebrating the death of poor Crow Jane makes digging a grave sound like a good time.
That's why this album works...it's traditionally rooted but refreshingly modern...lets face it; in a genre steeped with cookie cutter highjacked folk string bands populated with runaway punks and goths trying their best to grow up only to sound decidedly unauthentic and dishonest- the Union Grove Pickers have done their homework...they KNOW their stuff and they OWN this shit from start to finish! Authentic. Mature and FUN. I haven't smiled this much while listening to an album well...hell...I don't think I ever smile now that I think of it.
I'd recommend this to anyone who digs old time music with a modern twist. I don't hear anything weak on this album...strong performances, good songs and a group that's hit it's stride on a sophomore release. It was treat to listen to and I'm glad I was one of the first few to hear it in it's entirety. If old time rootsy-rockin' folk music that keeps your toes tapping and your soul laughing is your thing, you need to BUY this album folks. You'll be happy you did.
4-1/2 out of 5 stars