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Bearfoot: just your typical Alaskan bluegrass band

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., May 6, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Bearfoot is pretty much your typical bluegrass band from Alaska.

Of course, the quintet may just about have the market to themselves in the state where four-fifths of the band hail from, but they are doing a pretty darn good job of making a case for expanding their horizons.

After 3 albums since forming in 2001 (they formed after meeting at a music summer camp as kids), Bearfoot offered their first CD geared to a wider audience through the April release of "Doors and Windows" on the very fine Nashville-based label Compass.

The group has a lot to offer with only one highlight being the three-part harmonies provided by the newest member and only non-Alaskan, Odessa Jorgensen (she's from California), Angela Oudean and Kate Hamre. Their voices blended so well time and again, always pleasant to the ears. Jorgensen handled most of the lead vocals, and while generally very good, she also could have stood a bit more energy on several songs, pushing her vocals more.

Acoustic guitarist Mike Mickelson also took a turn at lead vocals (the chilling Fishtrap Joe, based on a scary story his mother told him while taking the boat to school in Alaska about a fisherman who's murdered), giving the vocal presentation a totally different feel, of course.

The second part that makes Bearfoot click is the quality of the material. While rooted in bluegrass, it's not straight ahead bluegrass as there are folky elements and sometimes the sound is jazzy also. They offered a sharp, fast reading of Jimmie Rodgers' No Hard Time Blues with Mickelson taking lead vocals.

One of the best songs all night during their two sets was the final song, Good in The Kitchen, done a capella and again demonstrating that this was a skilled group, not afraid to take a few chances.

The playing was sharp from the get go as well, particularly Jason Norris on mandolin, the veteran of the band at 26. What really worked were the twin fiddles of Oudean and Jorgensen. You just don't tend to hear that in the bluegrass world all that often, and doing so set them apart, while creating a lot of energy.

Alaska may not be in the musical forefront of pretty much any genre, but Bearfoot is doing its best do show that bluegrass is alive and well in the state and maybe beyond.