The Lil Smokies represent that new breed of bluegrass bands that are more concerned with finding a common connection that being held sway by any traditional back porch precepts. Having established themselves as festival favorites, they have all the makings of populist heroes, given their knack for spinning easily accessible melodies and creating a homespun sound that charms and entices on first encounter. "Changing Shades" serves as an ideal introduction with 10 instantly gravitating songs that sweep listeners up and entice them to sing along from the get-go. Indeed, it's practically impossible to sample selections like "The City," "Feathers," "Hitchcock," "The Gallery" and "Ms. Marie" and not feel a sudden surge of exhilaration merely from listening along.
It's no surprise really. The Missoula Mont.-based band have won its share of kudos over the course of the last five years, including prestigious nods from the IBMA, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition and the Northwest String Summit Band Competition. The five piece, consisting of Andy Dunnigan (Dobro), Scott Parker (upright bass), Matt Cornette (banjo), Jake Simpson (fiddle) and Matt Rieger (guitar), is well adept at combining both energy and earnestness, making for a musical blend that bends boundaries at times, but never forsakes their rugged roots. Comparisons to bands like the Steep Canyon Rangers and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are practically inevitable, but theirs is a singular devotion to form that never falls prey to any preconceived notions. It's bluegrass at its best, both driven and dynamic.
"Changing Shades" is, to say the least, an auspicious entry. It's also clear that the Lil Smokies are poised to make a powerful impression on audiences overall.