A Boston-area super-sideman-group that combines players such as Charlie Rose, Mark Erelli, and Zach Hickman who have worked with Josh Ritter, Ray Lamontagne, Lori McKenna, Aoife O'Donovan and more, Barnstar! Is like the house band at the club all the musicians go to after their regular nightly gigs are done. So tight they're loose and less concerned with showing off than showing up, the ad hoc group's second album dips deeper into original songs while continuing the adventurous cover choices of the debut.
"Sequestered in Memphis" by The Hold Steady isn't the most obvious selection for an acoustic string band to pick, for example; the rollicking rendition here transforms the tune into a twangy rave-up not unlike the band's own "Delta Rose." Lest one think there's no real bluegrass here, banjo player Charlie Rose's "Cumberland Blue Line" is a neatly rendered train song in a driving traditional bluegrass style.
Barnstar!'s strength lies not in the individual musical chops of the members, of which there is plenty of evidence; rather it's the reliance on songs, not style, and the way they choose to interpret and deliver them. "She Loves The Bands," from Vermont singer-songwriter Neil Cleary, is a combination of a classic rock 'n' roll groupie tale and an ode to classic rock itself that sounds like an acoustic Drive-By Truckers.
The emotional centerpiece is their version of Josh Ritter's languid love song "Darling" which in Barnstar!'s swaying, swinging hands becomes a "Gentle On My Mind" for a less carefree, more needful generation. That its author has employed several of the Barnstar! principals in the past no doubt increases their familiarity with it, also.
Born as a between-sessions jamming opportunity, Barnstar!'s sound coalesces when they throw out the arrangements and forethought and just rip through a great song, as they do on a rowdy "Stay With Me" from the Rod Stewart songbook. It's those moments that make it plain they are becoming more than just another supergroup, sidemen or not.