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The Benders

The Benders – 2002 (Pig Pile)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by The Benders

Bluegrass, perhaps moreso than any style of American music except maybe rap, is defined by where it came from. It would seem such parochial barriers should have been broken down years ago, but distinct differences between the West Coast, the South, the Midwest and the Northeast remain.

There are, of course exceptions to that rule. One happens to be The Benders, a quirky, somewhat irreverent quintet from the normally staid and folksy Northeast bluegrass scene. Signed to a small Boston label dominated by alt-rock and punk bands, The Benders' music nonetheless fits right in.

Their second effort offers up 12 songs, 11 written by band members Jabe Beyer, Tim Kelly and Nolan McKelvey. They wisely avoid standard high-lonesome vocals for the most part, except on the lone traditional song, "44 Gun." They opt instead for a more Dirt Band-type style, with traces of the New Grass Revival on the bouncy cut "Can't Wait," which has a very "Callin' Baton Rouge" feel to it. Unfortunately, recording with no overdubs backfires a bit on them. Vocals often sound hollow, and there are some wonderful guitar and mandolin runs that get lost in the mix. That's not uncommon with a lot of indie bluegrass recordings, and despite its flaws, it's still better than a lot of the discs bands peddle.

Despite the recording, The Benders' musical spirit is apparent. Clean up the vocals, tighten up the production and bluegrass in the Northeast could develop a new reputation. (Pig Pile, 43 Riverside Ave, #502, Medford, MA 02155, Pig Pile)