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Perfect Strangers (Rebel, 2003)

Perfect Strangers

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

Bluegrass is the marriage of great instrumentalists and high lonesome singers with songs that tend to be about mother, God or the mountains. Perfect Strangers offers an uneven mix of those elements on their self-titled debut.

The instrumentalists all seem quite capable at times, but the arrangements favor the banjo (the experienced Bob Black) and some outstanding guitar work. It takes an instrumental like "Bluegrass in the Backwoods" to really hear the instruments shine. Behind vocalists, the mix isn't always on target, and the backup work at times lacks imagination. The singers are a mixed offering, too. Some songs, like "Roll On, John," are almost incomprehensible, and the harmonies are not very tight ("If We Never Meet Again"). While usually pleasant to listen to they don't grab you with the smooth blend of voices you expect. The song selection more than anything will make or break this CD for listeners. They've skirted the tried and tested formula with a tendency for stories: John Hartford meets Norman Blake. While interesting they sometimes ramble on - or at least seem to ("The Greatest Midwestern Fear").

While it has some bright spots, listeners will either really like it or hardly ever play it.

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