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The Lonesome Trio

The Lonesome Trio – 2015 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by The Lonesome Trio

The Lonesome Trio make their recording debut with a self-titled, old-timey effort that recalls wide-ranging influences of Chris Thile, the Greenbriar Boys, the Seldom Scene and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Playing bluegrass music with a 'middle of the road' flavor, the Lonesome Trio doesn't get too fired up; their music isn't necessarily staid, but also doesn't possess much drive. Rather, they tend to coax clean, polished tones from their instruments while singing within a range bands like Hot Rize have mastered.

More than a vanity project for comedic actor Ed Helms, The Lonesome Trio has been playing bluegrass for themselves and others for 20 years. Joining Helms, who plays guitar and banjo, are Ian Riggs (bass) and Jacob Tilove (mandolin), friends from their Oberlin days together. Traditional bluegrass instruments are supplemented by the addition of piano, organ, vibraphone, and trumpet, all by group members.

"The Lonesome Trio" step outside the constraints of bluegrass, building upon the elemental structures to construct a vision as much Punch Brothers as it is Blue Grass Boys. "Mr. Fortune" evokes dreamy, existential sensations whereas the loping "Appalachia Apologia" gets closer to the roots, if from a big city perspective; Helms' guitar picking on this tune is especially appealing. The theme of "River in the Gutter" is bluegrass true, with urban images replacing rural touchstones.

Vocally, the group favors two-and three-part harmony. Occasionally, as on "Rising Tide of Love," the vocal approach is questionable, but this is not a widespread affliction. Most appealing are the arrangements of "Asheville City Skyline," "All Gone to Hell," "High Road Low Road," and "Whiskey Drink."

By recording a dozen self-composed pieces that speak of their experiences and environs, with minimal stereotypical rural, mountain references, The Lonesome Trio has created an honest, personal representation of modern bluegrass. Their acousitblue songs are of longing, love, relationships and missteps, but with few allusions toward portraying themselves as false prophets of mountain wisdom.

Nevertheless, The Lonesome Trio is definitely not for everyone.