The 23 String Band occupies that odd gray area in bluegrass that exists between traditional purity and youthful reinvention. The eastern Kentucky quintet might have a hard time convincing the genre's narrowly focused archivists that they belong in the same exalted pantheon as its marbled heroes, but 23SB doesn't seem to have any trouble amassing fans and packing dance floors, and that seems like a better yardstick by which to measure their efforts.
After their entertaining 10-song EP and high octane "Catch 23" album, the 23 String Band offers an interesting between-releases snack in the form of "Bangin' and Clangin'," a five-track stopgap EP that shows both their dedication to authenticity and their eagerness to incorporate new ideas into old paradigms.
"Bangin' and Clangin'" evolved from the band's four-shows-over-four-months residency in Louisville in 2012, which included a number of special guests (including Cheyenne Mize and Ben Sollee) and involved maintaining their unique musical identity while stepping well outside their comfort zone.
The addition of three horns and drums - an aggregation nudgingly christened the Horndog Millionaires - on "Bangin' and Clangin'" gives the 23 String Band an air of New Orleans hot jazz and Texas swing, and the fact that the EP's five songs are drawn from the band's first two releases allows them the latitude to explore well-traveled material with the knowledge of how they've performed it in the past and the freedom to approach it from a fresh perspective.
Of the originals, Valentines Love Bouquet has the wry humor and energetic jump that Lyle Lovett has turned into a stock-in-trade, while Leave Everything to Me lopes along with a joyful blues melancholy and Bee's Knees buzzes with apian witticisms at the intersection of the two groups' musical specialties. The two covers are equally appealing - a brisk and slinky take on the old blues chestnut St. James Infirmary and a slow, mournful spin on the Mississippi Sheiks' Sittin' on Top of the World, long a jumped up set favorite among western swing bands.
Sadly, that's all there is to "Bangin' and Clangin'," a shame because the 23 String Band (and the Horndog Millionaires) came up with a whole lot of magic in just 15 minutes. Hopefully, they're plotting a full length just like it for their next foray.