While it might seem that anyone who can play a lick of banjo is likely to sell a bundle of records at the moment, in truth nearly all the bluegrass artists who’ve rolled into the limelight on the rails laid by the O, Brother sound track are deserving–from grand masters like Ralph Stanley to Nashville backsliders like Dolly Parton on down to young crossover acts like Nickel Creek. In his liner notes to One More in the Cabin (Overcoat), the third album by Pennsylvania indie bluegrass band Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops, writer Michael Azerrad goes on far too long about how the group appeals to both devoted bluegrass fans and “hard-partying hipsters,” a dubious compliment that at this point could as easily apply to Stanley or Del McCoury. Singer and guitarist Jim Krewson used to play in a punk band, and “The Road to Paradise” gets a little bit country with drums and electric guitar, but otherwise the group’s stripped-down, no-flash approach is as traditional as it gets. The energetic harmony singing by Krewson and mandolinist Jennie Benford can raise the hairs on your neck, and fiddler Emma O’Donnell adds her pretty voice to the mix too (though she’s since left the group). Most impressive, all 14 tunes are originals, and none sounds like an exercise: there’s no apparent effort to update the form, and the lyrics’ adherence to bluegrass’s archetypal subject matter–relationships with other people and with nature–makes the tunes sound simultaneously timeless and old as the hills. For these shows Krewson, Benford, and banjo player Brad Hutchison will be joined by veteran bassist Eric Levenson, who plays on the group’s new record and has also accompanied great New England mandolinist Joe Val. Thursday, August 8, 9:30 PM, and Friday, August 9, 10 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia; 773-227-4433.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.