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(Dualtone 01265 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/7/2007)
The United States of America, regardless of what the world may think of the current administration's foreign policy, remains a key exporter, to an avid world market, of culture, movies, fashion, and of course music. So it is not all surprising when people around the world play our music, going back to European jazz groups in the early 20th century, to the British Invasion of the 1960s, based on the uniquely American artform, the blues, and of course, all manner of rock bands around the world have emulated the American innovators.
This time, we have a band that plays a style of music that has come to be called Americana, based on folk, country, bluegrass, and perhaps a little blues. Almost by its definition, it's not a style which has been performed very much or very well by foreigners -- there have been a couple of Russian country and bluegrass bands, but they are more of a novelty than anything else. But as you might suspect from the previous paragraph, the band we have this time is from overseas, and they have just released an excellent new CD. They comprise two Australians and a Brit, and since they are living in the US, they carry the very appropriate name The Greencards, after the immigration document for resident aliens. The Greencards' new release, actually their third, is called Viridian.
The Greencards are Carol Young, who plays bass and does most of the lead vocals, and Mr. Kym Warner who plays mandolins. They are the Australians. From the UK is Eamon McLoughlin who plays string instruments, fiddle, viola and cello. The trio play a very appealing blend of folk with strong vocal harmonies, bluegrass and country, plus a little of the more eclectic New Acoustic styled music. All three grew up in households where American folk and country were a constant presence. The two Australians had come to Austin, Texas, and met McLoughlin at a recording session where they began to collaborate, and soon became popular as a bar band in Austin, known as much for their bluegrass instrumentals as their songs. They shared stages with a number of Austin performers like Robert Earl Keen, and toured with them as well. The Greencards released an independent CD in 2004, and the following year recorded Weather and Water which received national distribution, and soon attracted the attention of some well known performers, such as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson who booked them as an opening act in their tours.
In the meantime, they moved to Nashville, where they had gone to record Weather and Water. They have been collaborating with various Nashville songwriters, and most of the songs on their new CD Viridian are collaborations with others. They also work with some first-rate Nashville instrumentalists on their new CD, including bluegrass guitar virtuoso Bryan Sutton, bassist Viktor Krauss, who appears on one tune, and drummer Larry Attamanuik, whose career goes back to the late 1960s when he was a member of the innovative band Seatrain. The CD's producer Doug Lancio and also Jedd Hughes add their guitars to this ordinarily guitar-less trio. Hughes also collaborated on the writing of several songs on the CD.
The Greencards' music covers many of the familiar lyrical themes, most having to do with relationships of various sorts, but the band's instrumental and vocal strengths, along with their appealing musical compositions, make Viridian a captivating recording, regardless of the country of origin of the members.
The CD opens with a song by Ms. Young and guest guitarist Jedd Hughes, Waiting on the Night, which summarizes the band's intriguing sound. There are elements of pop songs along with the decidedly acoustic textures of the band, including the prominent use of the strings of Eamon McLoughlin, along with guest string player Chris Carmichael. The tune goes is a number of interesting directions, deftly avoiding stereotypes. <<>>
Conjuring echoes of 1960s folk is the song Here You Are by guest guitarist Hughes. The Greencards are at their best on a song like this, with their pleasing acoustic instrumentation and the charming vocals of Ms. Young. <<>>
More melancholy in sound and lyrical direction is River of Sand, written by Kym Warner, the other Australian in the band, in collaboration with David Mead. It's another piece that succeeds all around. <<>>
One strengths of this CD is that the songs tend to avoid staying in one mode, and instead often move through different stylistic directions within a single track. A good example of that is Who Knows, a song written by Warner, Ms. Young, and Nashville bluegrass composer Ronnie Bowman. After the old-time style opening sung my Warner <<>> it turns toward the country side <<>> before becoming a kind of jam band tune. <<>>
The Greencards also serve up some straight-out bluegrass on a couple of tracks, including Shinin' in the Dark, written by Warner and another collaborator, Jerry Salley. As on almost everything else they do on the CD, the band succeeds nicely. <<>>
Eamon McLoughlin's contribution is a track called When I Was in Love With You, whose lyrics are based on a poem by English poet A.E. Houseman. The result is an interesting mixture of classical-style poetry with a kind of country-bluegrass backing. <<>>
The band includes one non-original song, I Don't Want to Lose You, by Kim Richey and Mike Henderson. It's the closest thing to a disappointment on the album. It's a bit too much Nashville for this eclectic group. <<>>
The CD ends with one of two instrumentals on Viridian. Mucky the Duck, by Kym Warner is another excellent straight bluegrass piece, which gives the Greencards a chance to show off their instrumental chops, with a guest appearance by what sounds like Bryan Sutton on guitar. <<>>
Viridian, the new third release by Greencards, is an excellent example of musicians from other countries thoroughly absorbing uniquely American music and serving it up with a lot of class. In fact, this is an excellent recording of tasteful eclectic acoustic music regardless of the country of origin of the artists. From their sound, one would never guess that this trio was two-thirds Australian, one-third English, who now live in Nashville, presumably with their Green Cards from Immigration. They mesh perfectly with the Nashville pickers who appear on the CD with them.
Sonically, we'll give the recording an A-Minus. The acoustic instrumentation and vocals are captured well, but there is my almost universal complaint that volume compression on the recording, to pump up the sound to make it louder, saps the subtleties and dynamics of the performance.
Good Americana music has until now been largely the domain of the natives, but the Greencards show that folks from across two oceans can serve it up with the best. While it's probably not the start of another movement like the British blues invasion a generation ago, Viridian is a thoroughly enjoyable recording showing how international Americana can be.
(c) Copyright 2007 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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