Appalachian Soul Via the Michigan Cold
The primary colors of the simple folding chairs on the cover of “If Sorrows Swim,” the latest offering from Greensky Bluegrass, bely the depth and complexity of the brand of bluegrass on display. Delving into the new album satisfies the listener with all the high-energy, lightning fast picking you hope to hear on a bluegrass record. But it’s the opening track “Windshield” that states the band’s earnestness of mission. Using the song as a vessel for lyrical play, Greensky makes it known that bluegrass is as much about the lyrics as it is about the picking.
Lines like “[a]ll the stories of our parents are falling apart, all the lies told to protect us and keep from breaking our hearts” articulate the perspectives and experience of a new generation of pickers working hard to bring bluegrass into a changed America. This being their first nationally distributed album, Greensky has something to say and more to prove. It’s not enough that they’ve collaborated with legends like Sam Bush and the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann, or shared billing with David Grisman, Yonder Mountain String Band, and the Avett Brothers among others. They now seem intent on creating their own brand of Michigan-brewed bluegrass. The album runs the gamut; from a declaration of jam influences with mandolinist Paul Hoffman’s stretched out “Kerosene,” to the country inflected, hippy optimism of guitarist Dave Bruzza’s “Wings for Wheels.”
Ever since New Grass Revival rebooted bluegrass music almost 3 decades ago, this uniquely American art form has found its way into many different corners of the country. As Greensky grows, it would appear that Michigan is the latest hotbed. Electric flourishes and a healthy smattering of effects-enhanced songs, particularly on the closing track “Just Listening,” will give bluegrass fans of all stripes a new listening experience at the same time that the music sounds familiar. The cold waters of Lake Michigan have touched these boys in some subtly interesting ways. Or maybe its those American roots that are digging in deeper.