The music of the Mississippi-based quintet Breaking Grass is clearly steeped in the bluegrass sound, but there is nothing strictly traditional about the songs on "Just As Strong," the band's first offering on its new label, Mountain Fever Records.
The 12 songs here feature all of the instruments (banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin) and the playing chops you expect from a top-notch bluegrass recording, but the difference lies in the song structure. There are more-than-subtle hints of other genres throughout the recording, and although you may expect the nod to gospel on the pretty and vocal-forward "There In Heaven," the surprise comes in the tracks that are as closely related to mainstream country and pop music as they are to bluegrass.
Cody Farrar, the lead vocalist and primary songwriter, has a real knack for creating the type of catchy melodies that showcase the vocal prowess of the entire ensemble. An excellent example is "Fly' with its plodding verses that crescendo up to a soaring chorus with gorgeous harmony vocals.
"Digging Up Georgia" is another nice example of both Farrar's abilities and the bands varied influences. The staccato instrumentation on the verses and the rambling banjo lines in the chorus have DMB written all over them. Though in this case, those initials stand for the Dave Matthews Band not the Del McCoury Band.
Of course, not everything here skews as heavily toward the pop/country side of the Breaking Grass sound. "Raining In Virginia," the first single, which features a more traditional sound and impressive picking, would fit comfortably on the bluegrass singles charts.
If you are looking for the kind of bluegrass recording that puts a spotlight on solos and breakdowns played at a breakneck pace, this is probably not the recording for you. However, if you enjoy a memorable melody draped in bluegrass instrumentation and great harmony vocals, give this latest Breaking Grass effort a spin.