Album Review – Swamptooth’s “B-Flat Earth”

Bluegrass is one of the earliest versions of country music, acoustic in attitude, and delightfully primitive in spirit. After all, it’s actuated on nothing more than hollowed out wood strung up with gauged wire. But in other aspects, bluegrass the most advanced and strikingly progressive country subgenre of them all, not just from the incredible skill it takes to articulate it in it’s most advanced forms, but from the way the music naturally excites neural pathways otherwise left at rest in everyday life and inaccessible by other music forms.

There’s a reason bluegrass gives itself so naturally to improvisation and extended experimentation. Even in it’s most conventional configurations, bluegrass can’t help but be strangely ethereal, somewhat cosmic, mind altering, and expansionary. Some might even say it’s supernatural. Maybe even, extraterrestrial?

If little gray dudes ever decided to visit Earth from another planet, odds are at some point they would get tired of shoving probes up the butts of poor unsuspecting Midwesterners, or studying the modes of today’s popular music today with its pathetically predictable turns and puny crumbs of creativity. Eventually to stimulate their advanced alien brains, they’d turn to the the concertos of yesteryear, the innovative jazz cats from the last century, and when it comes to country and roots music, the enterprising pickers of bluegrass.

From Savanna, Georgia, Swamptooth is a cross section of local musicians who’ve been playing with each other in one form or another since 2015, and from the want to keep the music going and the fingers nimble throughout the pandemic when live shows weren’t possible, they accidentally went off and composed and recorded an original album.

Anchored by blazing instrumentals that are solidly grounded in bluegrass traditions, yet bolstered with enough improvisation to be original, and ample “hooks” to make them accessible, it’s bluegrass that both aficionados will get a kick out of, and amateur listeners will find themselves bobbing their heads to.

Along with the inspiring instrumentation from Cory Chambers (guitar, bass), Jay Rudd (guitar, bass), Evan Rose (mandolin), Jimmy Wolling (banjo, sitar), and Vito Gutilla (fiddle), Swamptooth also throws in some fun, and sometimes silly songwriter type bluegrass songs to keep the experience spicy and interesting. Whether it’s the rigors of interfacing with the online world in “I Lost My Soul,” obsessing over a “Platinum Blonde,” or the plight of the Amazon workforce—pissing in bottles and all—as chronicled in “Made in China,” it gives the album some interesting wrinkles and spice.

B-Flat Earth is smart and funny, riveting and imaginative, while being rooted in the familiar all the same. Some of the lyrical songs may be a little too “out there” for some, as might be the “sitar from outer space” vibes of the song “Goa.” Some listeners may have to cherry pick their way through this record. But there’s enough good stuff here to give this local project some national pub.

Swamptooth and B-Flat Earth probably won’t set the world on fire like the second coming of Billy Strings. But if you’ve found yourself with a renewed interest in bluegrass from some of the new bluegrass artists who are boldly going where no one has gone before, or if you like bluegrass but not the stuffy nature of it that at times takes itself too seriously, step aboard the flying saucer and take a ride with Swamptooth. I can confidently say that it’s a better experience than getting an alien probe up your rump.

7.5/10

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