The Earl Brothers, redux   Leave a comment

I’ve rewritten my review of the new album from The Earl Brothers for the Lonesome Road Review site. If interested…

Thanks for visiting, Donald

The Earl Brothers
The Earl Brothers
4 stars (out of 5)

Grant Alden once wrote that when encountering bluegrass you, “either run from the sound, or be changed forever.” Place the impact of the Earl Brothers in the latter category.

San Francisco’s Earl Brothers have their roots in the South, and favor twisted, dark experiences that peel skin from flesh. Left-coast zip codes notwithstanding, the Earl Brothers are mountain music, no doubt.

For their fourth album, the Earl Brothers have made transitions while remaining true to their roots and audience. The band’s sound is fuller, more refined—certainly not slick or lacking spunk—but simply further along on an evolutionary journey. With fiddle introduced to the five-piece lineup, the rough-hewn, hardscrabble lead vocals and harmonies remain. In adding Tom Lucas’s fiddle, the band has confidently moved toward (but definitely not into) the bluegrass mainstream.

Those fretting that Robert Earl Davis has abandoned his subject matter or distinctive style need not worry—no primary school, storybook romances here; Davis knows his audience expects things to be harshly lonesome. His protagonists remain rounders, ramblers, and broken-hearted fools fessin’ up to messin’ up with hard women and raw whiskey.

Of course, bluegrass requires that come Sunday morning some testifying be considered so that band takes a “Walk in the Light” singing in the “Sweet Bye and Bye.”

Since 2005’s Women, Whiskey, & Death, the Earl Brothers have consistently released recordings containing bright banjo-picking and unique vocals from Robert Earl Davis. In Danny Morris, Davis has a guitarist and vocal foil to provide tenor accenting his unconventional singing, while the mandolin of Larry Hughes washes over every song.

The band and this album aren’t for everyone, and we’ve heard people praise and damn the band in equal measure. Compared to many receiving satellite airplay and label support, the Earl Brothers are progressive to the point of being traditional. They are the anti-corporate bluegrass band, those air-brushed (pictorially and musically) to the point of being unrecognizable while performing songs seemingly written with the aid of a couplet Wheel of Fortune and a committee of advisors. Simply put, there is nothing polished or contrived about The Earl Brothers.

With this new self-titled album, they have again demonstrated that they are confidently unwilling to compromise vision or execution.


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