Emerging from the ski town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Random Canyon Growlers are the latest bunch of players to be bringing a blast of fresh air to the bluegrass scene. The band has been built around the partnership of childhood friends Jamie Drysdale and David McMeekin (New England natives, as it happens), and this first full length album from the Growlers represents an account of their work to date. Life has moved on and the line-up of the band has changed a little, but, by all accounts, they remain true to their founding spirit.
The first thing that hits you is the blistering – and relentless – speed of their playing. I doubt if bluegrass has ever been played any faster than this and it took me a while to register that they do actually slow down occasionally. With more or less a five-piece line up as their standard format, you get double bass, a guitar or two, banjo, mandolin and fiddle; they come at you like a hurricane with you, the listener, having no clear idea where the most ferocious bit of playing is coming from at any given moment. They’re as tight a band as you could imagine but it’s the vim and vigour that carries you away. Only two guys are credited with vocals though it does sound like there’s more voices in there as they sing harmonies in a style that sometimes emulates their heroes (A Louvin Brothers cover pops up at one point) and more often sounds like a bunch of guys simply carried away with the exuberance of their music-making. And it’s in that spirit that they possess something that sets them apart; their approach is straightforward, honest and unfussy and they sound remarkably like both early heroes of the genre and also the very best of the 1960s revivalists.
There’s a few old songs featured here (Louvin Brothers, Bill Monroe, The Country Gentlemen) but it’s the original material of David McMeekin and Jamie Drysdale that truly impresses, with Drysdale in particular having an uncanny ability to recreate the musical and lyrical voice of early bluegrass. After I’d got to grips with their speed, I came to appreciate the rich musicality that underlies their performance. They love doing this stuff and that shines through brightly. The album gets its UK release toward the end of July and then the band hit these shores in October. That should brighten the lengthening evenings of autumn.
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