In 1,000 years from now will country music as presently constructed still be around and practiced in popular form? I’m not quite sure. But bluegrass I’m quite sure in one form or another will always be around as long as there are humans sucking air. There’s just something inherent about bluegrass: the beauty of wood and wire, and sentiments conveyed in their most simple, acoustic form. Bluegrass is the eternally-relevant form of country. It represents country’s most primitive, and its most advanced state.
The problem with bluegrass in 2014 is where to take it. Bluegrass is the the tale of two worlds in many respects. One world consists of absolutists, preserving the music in its most pure expression, playing it like it has always been played. On the other side are the progressives, taking the genre to the highest reaches of human capacity in displaying talent. Both are beautiful in their own ways, and boast their prodigies and maestros. Yet they’re also both very limiting in many respects. The absolutists are saddled by never being able to evolve. The progressives many times come off as bored. After they have mastered their craft and are able to move their fingers as fast as they can and switch from chord to chord with the fleetness of a bounding deer, where to go? So they make bluegrass songs out of indie rock, or take it to places that sound fey to the common ear.
Somewhere in the pursuit of bluegrass perfection, the simplicity of the subgenre got forgotten: the wood and the wire, and the beauty of universal sentiments conveyed through inviting melody. This re-attention to the beauty side of bluegrass is what is found on Bradford Lee Folk’s new album Somewhere Far Away with The Bluegrass Playboys.
A simply-stated, wholesome, traditional yet original bluegrass album, Somewhere Far Away delves into the emotion-stirring exploration of melody like few other projects inside or out of the bluegrass world. Bradford’s voice is warm, soothing, and understated in a good way, never getting too exercised like the ideal voice of wisdom and reason, which is only fitting for the sage-like sentiments these songs convey. The high lonesome tone that seems as effortless as breath to Bradford evokes the majesty of wide vistas, stoking the imagination.
The music from the Bluegrass Playboys—consisting of Robert Trapp on banjo, Christian Sedelmyer on fiddle, David Goldenberg on mandolin, and Ashleigh Caudill / John Fabke on upright bass—sets a premier balance between technical impressiveness and attention to melody that allows you to enjoy the songs based on multiple parameters. Similar observances are relevant to the songwriting: intelligent and expressive, yet always mindful of making the listener not just think, but feel.
Something else endearing about this album is there’s only eight tracks, and not a skip over in the bunch. Often these days artists stretch track lists to unnecessarily lengths, not allowing busy listeners the time to really get to know each track. It’s like the difference between going to a crowded party and only walking away with snippets of conversations with quick acquaintances, and exploring the themes of life with a few close buddies around a campfire.
Bradford Lee Folk is the former frontman for the Rounder Record’s-signed bluegrass band Open Road, and for years was a mainstay of Colorado’s independent bluegrass scene. He’s now moved back east to Nashville, looking to ride the rising tide in Music City, while still spending many days on a tractor or in a field as a farmer and rancher to keep his heart tied to the history of the music and the land strong.
Somewhere Far Away may not win any grand accolades from the bluegrass circuit because it doesn’t represent an extreme of the discipline. But unlike some of the speed demons, compositional wizards, and purists setting the pace in bluegrass proper, Bradford Lee Folk, the Bluegrass Playboys, and Somewhere Far Away are simply a joy to listen to.
Two guns up.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –