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Red June

Ancient Dreams – 2014 (Organic)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Red June

Bluegrass is full of bands that have killer musical chops, playing fast and furious or maintaining a purist traditional stance. Red June is nominally bluegrass, despite the lack of a banjo or even a bass in its stripped-down trio format, but the pair of instrumentals included on their new album ought to satisfy any grasser's jamming jones.

Rather than repeat the same well worn formula throughout, the group instead forge a new acoustic path that's reminiscent of the quieter moments of Nickel Creek or Alison Krauss, but with its own exotic element. Maybe it's Will Straughan's Dobro providing a bluesy tone throughout, John Cloyd Miller's songwriting or the plaintive fiddle of Natalya Weinstein; or maybe it's just one of those times when the combined forces at work just work well together in a unique way.

On "Ancient Dreams," the trio focuses on the sweet spot in their vocal harmonies, from the arresting a cappella extreme of the hymn-like gospel tune I Am Free to the gradually built arrangement of I Saw You in August. The high lonesome tenor part is missing, but not missed, in the more singer-songwriter folk tunes such as Black Mountain Night.

Weinstein doesn't sing nearly enough lead parts for the strength of her voice, but I Still Wait is a strong argument for more, surely. Gently rolling mandolin and guitar with an unobtrusive bed of Dobro supports a story of springtime longing that's slow to grow but ultimately satisfying.

That's an apt metaphor for the music of Red June; quietly beautiful with solid roots that tap into deep rivers of musical history. Here, they expand the bluegrass genre without exploiting it, using the best parts to inform their own take on tradition.