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Greensky Bluegrass

If Sorrows Swim – 2014 (Big Blue Zoo)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass brings it. This is not Bill Monroe's bluegrass (although Monroe could toss a scorcher in there at will); the music has expanded beyond the accepted form for years now, into newgrass (thanks to Sam Bush and many others) and jamgrass (String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain and the Infamous Stringdusters). Greensky, in "If Sorrows Swim," rightfully stakes a claim to jamgrass primacy.

The Kalamazoo, Mich. features a fiddle-less five instrument bluegrass lineup: mandolinist Paul Hoffman; Dobro player Anders Beck; guitarist Dave Bruzza; Mike Bont on banjo and Mike DeVol on bass. "If Sorrows Swims" distinguishes itself with the strong writing of Hoffman and Bruzza, together with tight musicianship throughout. Beck, in particular, maintains impressive control over Dobro licks and runs. Hoffman's mandolin work is concise, crisp and fast.

The CD starts out at warp speed for three selections - "Windshield," "Burn Them" and "A Letter to Seymour" (all standouts) - and then settles into a sweet, melodic hammock of medium tempo tunes before taking another turn and screaming nearly to the finish. The closing "Just Listening" provides a coda to what Greensky has wrought in "If Sorrows Swim." In Greensky, Hoffman's mandolin and Beck's Dobro push the line whilst DeVol's bass lays a solid foundation. More often than not, Bont's banjo licks work almost as a tenor bass line, propelling the work forward while Beck and Hoffman gather themselves for another run at the horizon.

Greensky are road warriors, playing 150 plus shows a year. Touring pays the bills, but the band shows a real commitment to making a musical statement in "If Sorrows Swim" (as they did with 2011's "Handguns"). Jamgrass bands that tear it up live sometimes have difficulty translating the energy of their stages shows to disc. Greensky Bluegrass has compiled a strong representation of what they are about.