Upon a first listen to Across the Divide, Fireside Collective’s fourth studio album, one is struck by the pure bluegrass sound. The vocal and instrumental sound is so clean. The five members of the band never sacrifice sound for speed. Close attention, however, rewards the listener with a taste of other musical flavors.
In a press release announcing the album, mandolinist Jesse Iaquinto described it as “a celebration of the journey from the familiar world into the unknown, and back into recognizable territory, but with new understanding.” In these songs the band explores beyond genre boundaries, bringing in influences from outside traditional bluegrass, yet they leave no doubt in what camp they belong.
Along that musical journey, Fireside Collective has achieved a balance between a traditional and progressive bluegrass sound and, lyrically, between relationships of trust and permanence and disconnected one-night stands.
The album opens with “When You Fall,” a song that fits within the bounds of traditional bluegrass not only in the musical arrangement but also in the lyrics that will have listeners singing along on the refrain, “You know I’ll catch you when you fall.”
“Let It Ride” adds a bit of banjo and mandolin-flavored funk to clever lyrics with a carpe diem theme that even slips in a line from the Sermon on the Mount: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” At times, the band puts the blue in bluegrass. “Blue Is My Condition,” a co-write with album producer Jon Weisberger and Fireside Collective dobro player Tommy Maher, speaks of the hurt and pain of being “lost, so lost I’ll never be found,” yet the song pushes ahead with an up-tempo delivery.
The band leans into a classic country sound on “Not Today,” written by guitarist Joe Cicero. The finesse in the tempo is the first clue that this song won’t fit a template of any genre. Rather than clipping along metrically, the singer breaks the tempo in the second half of each verse, slowing down and drawing out “pool halls … and holes in the wall,” then repeats the technique when singing, “She likes Manhattans … old fashioneds — a glass of Chardonnay.” The instrumental break after the first verse highlights a sweet mandolin tremolo and a banjo solo. After the second verse, the instrumental break brings in old-time gospel-sounding piano followed by a break on resonator guitar. The band uses the unexpected to powerful effect on the track.
The band’s transitions have a similar effect in “House Into a Home,” with the sound and the motifs of a classic bluegrass song about “trying to make this house into a home.” Then between the final two choruses, one can imagine the band members saying, “Hey y’all, watch this,” Carson White serves up a drone on bowed bass before the band picks up speed again as they move into the finish.
Members of the band trade off lead vocals, with harmonies used sparingly in some songs and in full force in others. The clear vocals draw attention to the lyrics, punctuated by the quality bluegrass picking that led to a 2022 New Artist of the Year nomination from the International Bluegrass Music Association (ND story). At this point in their musical journey, Fireside Collective shows they have explored new territory but have maintained a sense of who they are and where they have been.
Fireside Collective’s Across the Divide is out Aug. 5 via Mountain Home Music Company.