Count Packway Handle Band among the young bluegrass acts who are using the genre as a jumping-off point for wide-ranging experimentation while remaining true to the spirit and tradition of the genre. Things start off pretty traditional with two tunes from mandolin player and vocalist Michael Paynter, including the jaunty title track led by the fiddle of Andrew Heaton, but on Outskirts, also written by Paynter, the band finds a mellow folk-rock groove that's straight out of '70s singer-songwriter territory.
Packway's sense of humor has always set them apart from some of their more serious brethren, and What Is A Packway Handle? shows that off well while explaining the group's odd name. Andrew Heaton's occasional vocal turns are always good for some comedic moments, as on the humorous turn of phrase, I'm Glad You've Got My Priorities So Straight.
The group's contemporary status crops up throughout in ways that remind you subtly they're not your father's bluegrass band. Off My Knees alternates between a bluesy rock band vamping Led Zeppelin style and some frenetic runs that would probably sound just as good on electric guitar as they do on fiddle.
Band members all shine in various places, but the best example is probably the instrumental Horse vs. Technology, where they trade off licks in a timeless yet utterly contemporary style that's reminiscent of Tony Trischka or New Grass Revival.
It's a testament to the talent of Packway that none of the above sounds like forced, fake or faux bluegrass. They're obviously fans and afficianados of their chosen format, no matter how far they choose to stretch it.