CD Review – 3 Penny Acre “Rag and Bone”
When a trio works well, it’s like sitting on a three-legged stool. There’s just enough structure to keep things balanced while the asymmetry adds an interesting tension to the experience.
Rag and Bone, 3 Penny Acre’s new recording, is a spare and polished gem. Like their previous two recordings, this album plays to the group’s strengths: the blend of three distinct voices, strongly melodic songs, and their distinctly Ozark musical roots.
The band’s success pivots on fitting working class themes to a contemporary folk style without losing a rootsy edge. The opening track, Bryan Hembree’s “Slim Was A Teamster” features Bernice Hembree’s supple, assured vocals. An accomplished and passionate singer with a beautiful voice, Hembree has great phrasing and a distinctive style that puts her among the best of the younger contemporary folk/roots singers. On this track, and throughout the album, mandolinist Bayard Blain’s gritty vocal harmonies provide the perfect foil for her and for singer/guitarist Bryan Hembree.
Blain’s also a fine songwriter, his bluesy “Cowbird” paints a wonderfully wistful portrait of a mischievous bird complete with its gulping call.
Bryan Hembree is an intrepid storyteller, taking on such diverse subjects as the Tulsa race riot of 1921, and the saga of Frank Lloyd Wright’s affair with Mamah Bothwick. Both songs are wonderfully engaging storytelling, although because of the repetition of the melodies and length, they don’t bear repeated listening as well as the rest of the album. The final song and title track, “Rag and Bone” is Hembree at his songwriting best, featuring thoughtful lyrics and a rich plaintive melody – a nice touch, saving this pearl for last.
The band enlisted Trout Fishing in America’s Ezra Idlet to help sweeten up the mix. The introduction of tasteful electric guitar and piano enriches the group’s sound. This CD is a stellar example of tempered but bracing arrangements and production.
Key with any group with such diverse talents is to find their balance point. With Rag and Bone, 3 Penny Acre hits their sweet spot in making hand-made, finely crafted music that can stand up to the test of time.
– Michael Cockram with Susan Shore