Copper Kettle – Poison On Your Mind

Copper Kettle

Poison On Your Mind


Upon listening to this second album from Brooklyn, NY-based Copper Kettle these past weeks, three thoughts kept returning.


The first is Del McCoury; lead vocalist Fred Skellenger has either worked hard to sound more than a little like our Del, or is one of the most fortunate fellows around. Now, his voice doesn’t have the richness or depth of Del’s voice, and neither has it the seasoning that Del has acquired while traveling the miles, but they do share similar qualities including common phrasing preferences. And that is a good thing.


The second thought that came into my head was that Copper Kettle seems to favorably compare to James Reams & the Barnstormers in their approach to bluegrass. They possess a natural, earthy bluegrass sound, one that captures the listener’s attention and makes one scoot just a little closer to the speakers. Again, that is a good thing.


Now, Copper Kettle isn’t primed to be placed on a pedestal anywhere close to Del and the boys, and I suspect they aren’t yet ready to teach ol’ James any new tricks. But they have started to craft a foundation that is prepared to take on some substance. And that is a very good thing.


When it comes down to it, Copper Kettle appears to be Fred Skellenger and whomever he happens to be making music with. Since their very pleasant debut of a year ago, the entire band has been reworked leaving only Fred and his mandolin consistent. As strong as a calling card Coal Rabbit was, Poison on your Mind is most definitely a great leap forward.


Joining Skellenger on this album are David Stephens (banjo), Mike Gerbec (guitar), Jason Hogue (bass), and Melody Berger (fiddle). It appears Stephens and Berger provide the harmonies to Skellenger’s lead, but individual credits are not provided.


Skellenger wrote the eleven songs comprising this very pleasing album, and his lead voice seems perfect for his songs of woe-begotten circumstances. The title track has some sass to it, and unexpectedly recalls “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” “Wicked Heart” and “You’re His to Keep” explore similar themes in artful ways.


“Mourning Grave” is disturbing as only the finest songs can be; filled with regret, but not remorse, a murderous man rejoins his loved one in a common grave.


In the finest of bluegrass traditions, the album’s happiest sounding song begins with what appears to be a loving request: “Lay your head down.” Skellenger doesn’t go the easy way, instead revealing a telling of a man’s life and legacy; finally, he’s laying his head down in a “long pine box going deep in the ground.” Turns out, “Long Pine Box” is a beautiful song.


Stephens proves himself to be very capable on the five, and his breaks are executed in a dynamic fashion while his support work is unobtrusive. Gerbec doesn’t take too many noticeable lead breaks, but his rhythm playing works within the band context. Hogue’s contributions are apparent, and he has captured a nice bass sound on this recording.


According to the band’s website, Copper Kettle is relocating to Asheville, NC. Such a move is a bold one, and one wishes the band success as they settle closer to the bluegrass heartland. Poison on Your Mind demonstrates that the band has the substance to make a go of it as bluegrass professionals. Now comes the hard part.

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