Greensky Bluegrass are a fascinating band even before you’ve heard them play a single note. Formed in 2000, they came together over the desire to blend the all-string musical style of a bluegrass band with the showmanship of a rock group, producing what mandolin player Paul Hoffman is happy to label either ‘an acoustic ensemble, or a drum-less rock band, or a rock & roll bluegrass band’. The look of your average bluegrass band as they play is one of iron concentration: the perfectionist’s desire to play rapidly without error, like classical musicians on methamphetamines. Take the hurtling pace and blistering skill of bluegrass and channel into the stage-dominating style rock group and what you have is something quite electrifying.
The title of their new album ‘Shouted, Written Down and Quoted’ embodies a lot of what they are about – something hollered in a moment of mad passion and worth remembering in a quiet one later on.
Over the course of their latest release, Greensky Bluegrass move through a lot of previously untested gears with total assurance. The new album burst into life with the excited, sunny sound of ‘Miss September’ before powering into the album’s strongest track ‘Past My Prime’. Full of wistful longings for lost time, with lines like ‘one more drink and I’m anyone’s useless mess, just a helpless man with no self-defence’, the second number taps into a whole Americana mythology of wash outs who never got their chance and then goes hurtling into some of their finest freewheeling instrumental attacks since ‘Time > Breathe Reprise >’. With ‘While Waiting’ they strip everything back and slow it right down, a switch up that feels almost funeral in comparison. By the time the album comes to its close with ‘Take Cover’, it’s taken on a playful, smirking bounce that feels like a group that knows it’s already played a great show and is just dicking about with one last tongue-in-cheek track to lap up the applause.
‘Shouted, Written Down and Quoted’ gives an immensely talented band a full workout, offering them eleven tracks to try on different sounds and styles. Pure technical skill and audible self-assurance carry them through even the most unfamiliar new terrain but, being a bluegrass band at heart, they remain only truly at home on the ground that lets them charge full pelt. As they always have been, Greensky Bluegrass are at their best when they’re ramped up to an amped up, sweat-pouring, heart-pounding tempo. Lyrics with the simple power of Southern writing sang in voices like smooth whisky, broken up by into manic, moonshine happy string blitzes – the band truly comes to life on tracks like ‘Past My Prime’ where they’re given space to roam. The album as a whole is damn good and, though it leaves it more than a little uneven, their will to keep bending the rules and re-invent with every track is constantly exciting.
‘Shouted, Written Down and Quoted’ is available now via Big Blue Zoo