With their debut album, Secret of the Breeze, released just days before the pandemic shut down the world, Sicard Hollow engage with a changed world with their sophomore album, Brightest of Days, with lyrics informed by lessons learned along the way. More Everyman than Shakespeare, the prevailing mood of the album could be summed up as “pragmatic optimism.”
The Nashville-based four piece, together since 2018, came from different musical backgrounds, channeling their talents toward a progressive bluegrass sound with no allegiance to a set of rules or traditions. The influence of the Grateful Dead and New Grass Revival are easy to tease out, but Sicard Hollow’s dynamics are original, and their musical talent is on display.
The band members bring a sense of urgency to the message of the eight songs on the album. The project is bookended by the title track, “Brightest of Days,” and closing song “Forecast of Life,” both offering a sense of hopefulness.
“Brightest of Days” opens with simple guitar and birdsong, but swiftly builds in speed and intensity. Alex King, on lead vocals, repeats the mantra that “the brightest of days we haven’t seen yet,” noting in the chorus, “You cry out, ‘Will this darkness ever end? And I reply, ‘You’ve almost made it out my friend.’” The message of optimism despite dark circumstances might sound simplistic within another kind of musical composition, but Sicard Hollow’s backdrop of bluegrass instrumentation at its finest invites listeners’ attention as the song proceeds like an Irish blessing with a litany of may you’s — “May all living beings be free of suffering … May your burdens be buried … May you live to see one hundred years. …”
With images of near disaster, “a car that starts to hydroplane” and spinning out “like a crashing plane,” “Where I’m At” speaks to regaining control and finding the way back home, “back to the herd,” with a sense of acceptance of the current situation. As the song draws to a close, the band shifts to a full instrumental jam almost as long as the vocal section with one of several stellar mandolin breaks on the album from Will Herrin before the final chorus.
At the heart of the album, the lyrics of “This I Know” have no surprises or hidden messages in the credo: Follow your heart, hold on to friends and family to find the way home. The simple verses, with Lindsay Lou on harmony vocals, are punctuated by energetic instrumental breaks featuring mandolin and dobro.
After a detour into some darker territory for a few tracks, the final song, “Forecast of Life,” returns to the opening’s guardedly positive outlook, with an emphasis on personal responsibility: “You can’t change the weather, but you can dance in the rain.” Across the arc of the album, the members of Sicard Hollow suggest that while we can’t change circumstances, we can control our response — and we can make joyful music along the way.
Sicard Hollow’s Brightest of Days is out Nov. 11.