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Bearfoot

American Story – 2011 (Compass)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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Bearfoot members Jason Norris and Angela Oudean are well-used to the tribulations and vagrancies of the professional bluegrass world. Founders of the at-one-time Alaskan-based troupe of bluegrass youths, the pair has seen vocalists and musicians arrive and depart with recent recordings. Yet, Bearfoot's sound remains individual and identifiable, freshened by new insights and influences focused about an acoustiblue attitude that is modern and challenging. With the addition of Nora Jane Struthers, the affable quintet has produced their most fully realized release to date.

With a Natalie Maines twist in her annunciation, Struthers brings Bearfoot to another level artistically, no small feat considering Odessa Jorgensen did something similar on the previous "Doors & Windows." From the opening lines of her original Tell Me A Story, Struthers reveals a sultriness that mergers beautifully with the group's artful blending of bluegrass's roots and branches.

Struthers contributes much of the album's material including co-writes with Tim O'Brien (Feel Free) and Claire Lynch (Eyes Cast Down) and the ode to self-determination Kill the Rooster while taking the bulk of the lead vocal spots.

Struthers and Oudean share the leads on the flirty Come Get Your Lonesome, from the pen of recent addition Todd Grebe, while everyone contributed to the writing of the lusty When You're Away.

Utilizing the acoustic instrumentation frequently associated with bluegrass excepting banjo - the five-string makes only a couple appearances - Bearfoot works around the edges of the music to create an atmosphere that is charged with excitement.

Rare is the album that contains no filler, but that is the case with Bearfoot's fifth album: a testament to determination and musical integrity, "American Story" is just the latest chapter to be written by one of the most interesting outfits working the bluegrass and Americana circuits.