CD Review: The Greencards, The Brick Album
Aussie-American bluegrass band The Greencards announced late last year that they would finance their new CD themselves with the help of listeners who would be offered the opportunity to “buy a brick.” As you can see from the front cover of The Brick Album, several did (there are also names all over the back and inside of the CD jacket). The album comes out in June, but it’s available now to those who purchased bricks, which happens to include yours truly. Check me out: top right, just below the black paint blob with some green smeared over my name. Makes me feel a little like Navin R. Johnson to get this kind of “spontaneous publicity.”
After getting used to the idea of having my name on an album cover, I spent some time listening to The Brick Album the last few days. I’m happy to report that it ain’t a brick. This one is nothing but net – a game-winning 3-pointer from half court. (Australians dig basketball, in case you didn’t know.) If you’re wondering, we brick purchasers have no financial interest in the success of this album. Hopefully, I’m not too biased by the fact that my name is on the front cover (top right, under the black blob, with grean smearing).
The core members of The Greencards are Kym Warner (mandolin/vocals) and Carol Young (bass/vocals). They’re the Australian part of the group (they chose the band name because they and the other founding member, an Englishman, all had green cards from U.S. Immigration). The other founding member departed in 2009, and the band now includes a couple of U.S. Citizens: a young and talented fiddle player in Tyler Andal and a national champion flatpicker in Carl Miner. I suppose I should also point out that Mr. Warner won the Australian National Mandolin Championship four times before coming to the United States. If you don’t know The Greencards (or even if you do), check out this video of Make it Out West (track one of The Brick Album) to see how talented they are:
Unlike their very first CD, which was a if-you-want-a-record-you-better-do-it-yourself project before being picked up and reissued by Dualtone, I don’t believe The Greencards had to self-finance the production of this record. All indications are they could have cut a deal with a record company had they chosen that route. Their first three records were on the Dualtone label (all charted Top 10 in the Bluegrass Album Chart, with Viridian hitting Number 1). Their last album, Fascination, was on Sugar Hill, netting a Grammy nomination for its instrumental tune, The Crystal Merchant. The Greencards won the Americana Music Association’s New/Emerging Artist of the Year in 2006. They’ve toured with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. I had the opportunity to see them live at the 2009 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a place that is a pretty clear indicator of a band’s status in the world of modern bluegrass.
So how would I describe the CD? It’s an album similar to what Nickel Creek might do now, if they got back together, with Alison Krauss producing and Sara Watkins taking over most of the vocals. There are a hundred problems with that comparison, I know, but hopefully it gives you some idea of what I’m talking about. This is clearly contemporary bluegrass, a bit more mature than the early Nickel Creek stuff, infused with influences from all over, unafraid to have a hook, or not so much, as the song requires.
Mr. Warner and Ms. Young bring a nothing-to-prove maturity to this piece of work that is born out in the production (Justin Niebank, who has produced Vince Gill, Marty Stuart and Keith Urban is producer). Songwriting and song selection carries this theme forward. Mr. Warner writes/co-writes nine of the twelve songs on the CD – he seems to own this side of the project as much as Ms. Young owns the vocals, though that switches around at times. (Most notable of the switcharounds is Girl In The Telescope, which is co-written by Ms. Young and features some of Mr. Warner’s vocals.) Even the three songs written by others carry forward the album’s theme. Naked On The River (one of two songs by John O’Brien) is an example. Told from a female perspective, it speaks of a devil with a beard and skinny jeans who will “screw you in your dreams.” The unfortunate narrator, who has to remove her clothes to tear the enemy she’s sleeping with away from the novel he’s reading, laments that she wants to join a herd of sheep so she can just “just follow, eat and bleat.”
Naked On The River contrasts well with Make It Out West (in the video, sans the Sam Bush slide mandolin you’ll hear on the CD) and Heart Fixer, another upbeat tune. Fixer is a pop song in the best sense of the word. “The way you move me keeps me going, the way you’re going, keeps me moving.” Vince Gill sings with Ms. Young and plays guitar on this song, and it works well. There was a day when a song like this might have found its way onto mainstream radio, and in turn led the wider audience back to the album to fall in love with other songs they wouldn’t otherwise have heard. I’ll stop right there, as that’s a different blog post.
The Brick Album is not a traditional bluegrass record. It doesn’t even have a credited song that falls in that category (there is a bonus recording of Bury Me Beneath The Willows hidden on the last track), and unlike listening to a Union Station album, you really don’t find yourself waiting for a song like that. There are, however, two excellent instrumental numbers: Adelaid and Tale of Kangario (Kangario has a reprise as well). I like Kangario the best – The Greencards website describes the song as a “Brazilian dance of mandolin and guitar,” and I’m not sure I can do better than that.
The Brick Album will fit nicely into your collection whether you’re a contemporary bluegrass fan or just a fan of good music. It will be officially released on June 21, but pre-sales will be announced soon on the band’s website.
You can follow Mando Lines on Twitter (@mando_lines). The Greencards (@thegreencards) have an excellent Twitter stream – they post from the road and are very responsive to comments from their followers, so check them out if you are a twitterer.