Speed Of Life is the first album in five years by one of the oldest true blue Americana bands around, yes they may have started out in the mid-1960s but boy their music still sounds fresh and sharp and true to the roots of the music.
Featuring band members Jeff Hanna (acoustic guitar, electric, resonator, slide / guitar, mandolin), Jimmie Fadden (drums, harmonica, percussion), Bob Carpenter (Wurlitzer, grand piano, Hammond organ, accordion) and original member, John McEuen (5-string banjo, mandolin, fiddle, lap steel, finger-styled acoustic guitar —be sure to check on his fabulous banjo instrumental solo ‘Lost In The Pines’)who returned to the fold after a 14 year break (1987 -2001) with a renewed vigour.
Starting off at a gallop the boys let rip with ‘Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble To Me’ as harmonica, steel guitar, mandolin and piano give it a funky edge. It is a winner if there ever was one. While the typical NGDB ‘Brand New Heartache’ possessing rasping Dobro, fiddle and banjo with Hanna on lead vocals a high benchmark is established.
Although not all songs make an instant impact, the likes of a Rodney Crowell-esque ‘The Resurrection’ (Matraca Berg-Alice Randall) punches home with its striking lyrics and Hanna’s sympathetic tones. Like with Carpenter’s assured lead vocals on the mystical ‘Somethin’ Dangerous’ and Hanna’s mellow toned ‘Speed Of Life’ (another cut I could imagine Crowell covering) the songs gain something with every play and that is even after an impressive first hearing! As is the case with a fiery and authentic tribute to the ‘king of bluegrass’ legend ‘Jimmy Martin’ —not least due to splendid banjo, mandolin and wonderful percussion as Jeff, Bob and Jon Randall Stewart share the duties on vocals.
Carpenter’s role as lead vocalist is something he handles with cool aplomb on a couple of songs as he hits the spot on the jaunty ‘Earthquake’ that he wrote with McEuen that contains a mass of harmonica, banjo and upright bass in support. Fadden likewise brings a change in the vocal line-up on ‘Tryin’ To Try’ (written w/ Guy Clark) as he speaks of emotional heartache and how people are not always understood as the might.
Two covers figure in the shape of the late 1960’s Canned Heat Woodstock favourite ‘Goin’ Up The Country’ and Stealers Wheel 1970’s gem ‘Stuck In The Middle’ that features rattling good banjo, mandolin and accordion there is a remarkable freshness in the arrangement.
‘Good To Be Alive’ brings the entertainment to a close in a fine fashion as the whole ensemble share the vocals as infectious accordion spread a great Cajun styled joy aided by star guest vocalists Matraca Berg, Jessi Alexander, Jon Randall Stewart (who also plays guitar and mandolin), Jamie Hanna, and pickers Richard Bennett, Glenn Worf and Vince Santoro. It is time to party and the NGDB certainly know how to party and bridge musical boundaries better than most any act going and my they long continue to do so.
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