In my endeavor to cover more Bluegrass albums this year, I haven’t exactly done well. After this review I’ll have written about three of them, but look, it’s April. Granted, Bluegrass is an entirely different animal in terms of its release schedule than say, Country or Americana, but I’ll acknowledge I’m behind.
That’s why I was glad to hear about a brand new album from a Bluegrass band called Breaking Grass from my friend Alex over at Critically Country (By the way folks, he’s doing some great work over there so check out the blog!). Anyway, I had heard great things about the band, especially in regards to their more experimental sound (like Infamous Stringdusters). As such I was excited to dig into their latest album, Warning Signs.
Warning Signs is definitely an interesting album to talk about, and while I won’t quite say I love it, I do think it’s worth your time, and if anything, I’ve been exposed to another great Bluegrass band. The main sell of this album is that, as stated before, the instrumentation is a little more experimental than your typical Bluegrass album. Also, the lyrics and themes dive into some pretty weird topics. I would say it’s right on both counts, but at the same time I was kind of hoping for something more.
Before I get into that though, I will say that the first half of the album is excellent, and really showcases the band’s best traits. The melodies are engaging and lush, the stories are beautifully sketched, and frontman Cody Farrar is a great vocalist if I do say so myself. We’ll start with the lyrics and themes though. Death is the topic of choice for many of these songs as evidenced in “Stay” where a man is visited by the ghost of his dead lover, or “Nobody Knows” where two lovers are shot dead by an unknown assailant. It’s kind of like Jason Aldean’s “Night Train” except, you know, these people get shot. One song that’s got a sweeter, more melancholy melody to it is “Sweet Ava” where this girl (guess what her name is) is accidentally shot dead by her father trying to protect her lover (who the father didn’t like).
It’s not even so much that these songs get repetitive or anything, as all of them have separate, engaging stories, and while I keep trying to look for smaller details within each of those songs to string together a hidden message, as a listener the darker tones in both the production, instrumentation, and lyrical content are very welcoming. Now, not every song dips its toes in this gruesome subject matter, but that doesn’t make them any less engaging. The title track takes a scat-like rhythm to deal with the uncertainty of falling in love, and “House Of Cards” is also another song with a unique, unusual rhythm to it. There’s also the oddly sweet and tender “Faith Moved A Mountain” which tells of a little girl who manages to break this old man’s stoicism and find joy in life again. It really doesn’t fit on this album but it’s a touching song all the same.
But ultimately, I must be a selfish prick, because in the end I was hoping we could push the band’s style straight to the finish line. Instead, it switches predominantly to a traditional bluegrass album with more “normal” themes after track seven. Again, that’s not a bad thing, it just disappointed me as a listener to not see this overarching theme of death explored further. I like it when music gets dark and heavy.
Now, there are moments that I do wish could have been better as well. The most gruesome track lyrically here is “The One She Adored”, a track that tells of a man who kills his friend out of a jealous rage (since the woman he loved and wanted to “go after” was actually in love with this other guy) before watching his dead friend being eaten by a wildcat. Yeah, what the hell, right? It’s a dark and heavy tale, and while the melody is overall very pleasing, this is a track that just feels odd in a traditional bluegrass setting. Additionally, some tracks such as “Taking and Giving” and especially the schmaltzy “Waking Up With You” feel oddly out of place on this album, lacking any interesting traits the same way that “Faith Moved A Mountain” did. Other than that, it can run a tad long at twelve tracks (coming from someone who simply prefers shorter albums).
But overall, this is a fascinating project, and while I’ve slept on Breaking Grass for awhile now, this album era is just as good to caught up as any would be. Again, most of my criticisms extend towards things that I had wished for, but that’s me. If you enjoy Bluegrass and have been longing for something that will quench your thirst, this album may do the trick.
Favorite Tracks: “Warning Signs”, “Nobody Knows”, “Faith Moved A Mountain”, “Sweet Ava”, “Stay”
(They have no videos online, so sorry gang)