Arkansauce - OK to Wonder
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OK to Wonder (Self-released, 2023)


Reviewed by Jim Hynes

Arkansauce is a progressive bluegrass/newgrass quartet hailing from the state embodied in their band name. "OK to Wonder" is their fifth release for the band of Tom Andersen (bass)t Zac Archuleta (guitar), Ethan Bush (mandolin) and Adams Collins (banjo, piano). Each sings lead, harmonies and contributes to the songwriting. While there are strains of tradition in their approach, most songs offer rather complex melodies and rhythms. Their rapid picking is technically dazzling, but they can be witty, whimsical or just about having a good time in an effort to spread joy with their mix of four instrumentals and seven vocal tunes.

The rowdy "Up on the Shelf" kicks off, steeped in stout picking as the mandolin and banjo drive the rollicking, but fluid tune as all four voices chime in. We're already rolling down the road well past the speed limit. The instrumental "Big City Chicken" initially dials it down, revealing strong interplay as the guitar, mandolin and banjo echo each other's lines. As it goes through changes, in the mid-section, the faster tempo plays more directly to tradition of Irish reels. "First Night of the Tour" finds balance between celebration and admonishment.

"Coldiron" carries a high lonesome sound, but the band blazes its own path unlike the standard train song approach found in so much of this music. "I'll Be Yours" features some fine bass and mandolin playing along with an infectious chorus. "Early Bird" has the album's strongest vocal harmonies while "How Time Flies" echoes John Hartford's style. One of the most memorable tunes is the pulsating, rather traditional joyous "My Home in Arkansas," featuring blinding solos from the major strings.

As described in the instrumental "Big City Chicken" these songs are where the band takes the most chances. While that tune was penned collectively, Adams wrote the other the three – the hip-hop infused "Bim Batta," the NOLA funk imbued "Funky Gorilla" and the more straightforward banjo driven closer, "Air Bender." Musically challenging, but ultimately sonically pleasing, it's refreshing to hear a band in this genre be so daring.

CDs by Arkansauce

OK to Wonder, 2023

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