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The Lonely Heartstring Band

Deep Waters – 2016 (Rounder)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by The Lonely Heartstring Band

The Lonely Heartstring Band offers traditional instrumentation, a jamgrass vibe, tight arrangements and a lot of heart. The band, a five-piece acoustic/bluegrass ensemble, is yet another product of the American Roots Music Program at Berklee College of Music in Boston. "Deep Waters," the band's first release, makes their presence known.

For bluegrass music listeners, there's nothing more appealing and evocative than a strong tenor vocal. In 2016, one look no further than George Clements of The Lonely Heartstring Band for such comfort. "Deep Waters" is an ambitious work, featuring Clements' vocal work meshing well with intricate (although never fussy) bluegrass instrumentation. It's a collection that will carry the listener through a long highway drive or keep her company on a lazy day around the house.

Because of their virtuosity and taut arrangements, The Lonely Heartstring Band brings inevitable comparisons to Punch Brothers. The parallels are apt. LHB's members are relatively young and their playing, whilst full and rich, is not quite as mannered as their Punch brethren. LHB shows plenty of style and, equally as important, lays out a vision for where their music is likely to lead.

Confidence abounds. What other bluegrass group would successfully tackle, with style and sureness, a cover of Paul Simon's "Graceland"? Clements' vocals introduce the band to great effect in "The Road's Salvation" (played at a rousing tempo) and the more leisurely but no less satisfying "Deep Waters." The title cut exemplifies the band's appeal: strong vocals, rolling banjo figures and insistent fiddle and mandolin lines.

More, The Lonely Heartstring Band is, in part, a brother act, since George Clements' lead vocals and guitar are complemented by twin brother Charles on bass and harmony vocals. The non-Clements shine as well: Gabe Hirshfeld plays a tasty banjo and California-bred Matt Witler shines on mandolin. Patrick M'Gonigle plays fiddle with clarity and power.

Here and there, The Lonely Heartstring Band takes on a jamgrass vibe, as in "The Tide" and "The Look In My Eye." But, in the end, the febrile arrangements are solid and serve the songs well. The record ends, surprisingly, with Pete Seeger and Lee Hays' "If I Had A Hammer." It's as if the band were saying, "This is what we can do, and here's why we belong." LHB shows plenty of style and with "Deep Waters," carved a mark showing they are a band to be reckoned with.