Impressive at the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual trade show last year, Crucial Smith's album, produced by former New Grass Revival guitarist Pat Flynn, confirms that first impression. The disc shows a band that can play, sing and write with skill and feeling; it's a strong debut that should win them some attention.
The notes don't identify who sings lead on which song, but it doesn't matter too much, for the vocals - both lead and harmony - are always solid and sometimes inspired, as is the picking. The songs are mostly originals from Tim May (guitar, vocals) and Kyle Wood (mandolin, vocals), and show off a nice variety of moods, ranging from Wood's up-tempo opener, "Go With Me," to themore contemplative "Father Time," co-written by May and Flynn. There are lots of good touches in the arrangements - nifty ensemble passages and variety in the backup behind the vocals, for instance - but they don't so much draw attention to themselves as they support and enhance the singing and the songs.
At a time when "traditional" bluegrass is getting the lion's share of attention, Crucial Smith's decision to present a sound that owes its biggest debt to (but isn't an imitation of) the New Grass Revival is bold. Regardless, they have the chops and the soul to pull off a real "progressive" bluegrass album. Unless you think that all the good bluegrass was recorded before 1965, chances are you'll find a lot to enjoy in Crucial Smith.