Split by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the western North Carolina-based members of Unspoken Tradition have melded into a polished ensemble with strong original material, abundant talent, and an already distinctive sound subtly more trad than most new bands. Simple Little Town proves an auspicious debut from (self-described) “six working-class guys from North Carolina” who have been together for less than two years. This whole far exceeds the sum of its parts.
Original songs prove a must these days. Unspoken Tradition goes well beyond that standard with new songs that stand out and shape their sound. Seven band compositions propel the album, starting with the radio friendly and instantly memorable title-track written and sung by resonator player Lee Shuford. He also contributes the closing “Rebel’s Shake”—the quite rare war song from the deserter’s point of view—and “Time Marches On.” Shuford founded Unspoken Tradition down the mountain in Cherryville, N.C., with banjo player Zane McGinnis and guitarist and primary lead singer Audie McGinnis. The latter composed a trio of songs, two quite daringly distinctive. “Mr. President” is Tea-Party angry yet politically non-partisan, populism without party, emotions shaping policy. Audie sings lead on his powerful, Levon Helm-style “Blood And Bone,” about a farmer’s attachment to the land. Mandolinist and sometime lead singer Ty Gilpin provides the other title, “Bitter Haze,” from within the band, rounded out by fiddler Tim Gardner and bassist Matt Warren. Those three come from Asheville.
Given the sincere traditional soul of their original songs, Unspoken Tradition seems just a bit less confident and a lot less distinctive on their cover of the Stanley Brothers’ “I’m Lost And I’ll Never Find The Way.” On the other hand, their bluegrass version of Cake’s “Stickshifts And Safetybelts” works quite well, despite some phrasing challenges in the translation. The ability to identify the bluegrass potential of that pop song demonstrates a great talent long ago mastered by Doyle Lawson and Bill Emerson. Unspoken Tradition demonstrates unlimited potential, genuine passion, fine writing, and, particularly, a well-formed sense of themselves on their first album. (www.unspokentradition.com)AM