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Henhouse Prowlers

Breaking Ground – 2013 (The Prowlers Music)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Henhouse Prowlers

The fifth released by Chicago-based bluegrass quartet Henhouse Prowlers in about as many years appears to be part of a bid to emerge onto the national stage, especially given a heavier touring schedule in the U.S. and abroad. When encountering recordings by new bands, or at least bands one previously hasn't heard of, it's always instructive to check the liner notes to see who's helping out on the project, and in this case, it turns out that longtime Rhonda Vincent sideman Josh Williams sits in on a few cuts as well as Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass. Good company, indeed.

More importantly, though, the disc is produced by Greg Cahill, whose likewise Chicago-based band Special Consensus has for nearly four decades been among the strongest traditionally-oriented bluegrass outfits in the country.

Cahill does a good job highlighting the Prowlers' strongest appeal, which is the superb instrumental talents of the four members: Ben Wright (banjo), Starr Moss (guitar), Jon Goldfine (bass) and Dan Andree (fiddle). The vocals are strong as well, though not quite "traditional" in the sense that Monroe and Stanley fans would look for.

That said, "progressive" doesn't quite serve as a good description of their sound either. At times they venture into the bluesy, rough-edged sound of bands like The SteelDrivers, but for the most part it's a rounded, powerful style that's both interesting and entertaining. It just doesn't evoke little cabin homes on hills.

Though they do venture into trad material like Pretty Polly, most of the songs are intelligently and at times humorously written, such as Den of Sin and Scratching Post. And, as Run C&W did a few years back, they show that Motown tunes like Ain't Too Proud To Beg can be done up as grass. This is an inventive and adventurous band that still has the chops to attract bluegrass purists.