Whether you’re listening to traditional or progressive bluegrass, it can be difficult to find new music that isn’t highly derivative. So, after listening to this CD fronted by the clear wispy tenor voice of Simon Linsteadt (lead singer, principal songwriter, and guitarist of the California-based quartet Steep Ravine), it’s hard not to be struck immediately by the freshness of this band’s material and approach.
Eight of the album’s eleven cuts are originals, weaving threads of wistful heartache and longing into images of natural beauty and wonder, all infused with threads of bluegrass, swing, and even traces of pop/folk into a collection that’s full of sweet surprises. “Wooden Floors” uses an unlikely reference point and a gently loping swing rhythm to trace the arc of a relationship, while “Prairie Rose” rejuvenates an old theme of regret into something as fresh and delicate as its title evokes. Mandolinist Andy O’Brien, fiddler Jan Purat, and Linsteadt each contribute an instrumental composition, allowing the three of them, along with bassist Alex Bice, to stretch out and show their chops. But like the rest of the recording, the aim is for a smooth, sweet, and nicely-textured band sound whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
While this is not a hard-driving band that is likely to appeal to the bluegrass mainstream, Steep Ravine is a very impressive and original group that’s taking progressive acoustic music in an interesting new direction. Built on a solid foundation of gifted songwriting, fine singing, and acoustic string dexterity, they may well be opening up a whole new stylistic direction for musicians and listeners alike to follow. (www.steepravineband.com.)HK