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Greensky Bluegrass

Handguns – 2011 (Blue Zoo)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Greensky Bluegrass

Even with "Bluegrass" in their name, it's hard to hear the new album from Greensky Bluegrass and associate it with what one might traditionally consider the music of Bill Monroe or Ralph Stanley. Instead, one gets a breezy blast of Tony Trischka-style banjo atop a vaguely jam-band version of newgrass that puts them in a class with Yonder Mountain String Band or String Cheese Incident, to name two more well-known non-traditional semi-bluegrass acts.

Get past the genre hair-splitting, and there are some very enjoyable moments here, however. The band may not sound traditional, but they tackle similarly dark subject matter from a fresh perspective on songs such as I'd Probably Kill You (featuring a decidedly non-bluegrass trombone part) and Bring Out Your Dead, which is prefaced by a bluesy vocal introduction before employing something called a "buchla," a modular waveform generating synthesizer that emits a sound not unlike a strangled electric guitar.

"We are singing to comfort pain," goes one line of Beauty and Pain, a claim that's backed up by the fatalistic tendencies of No Idea and the pull-no-punches Blood Sucking F(r)iends.

Too many of today's bluegrass acts are content to rehash and recycle in the name of tradition; it's refreshing to hear a band building on the same foundation and coming to such a different place with the music.