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Front Country Front Country
Album: Other Love Songs
Label: Organic
Tracks: 12
Website: http://www.frontcountryband.com

If you're just discovering them, it'll make no difference, but if you picked up on the San Francisco Bay Area acoustic five-piece with their 2014 debut and are expecting more of that's bluegrass sound for the follow-up, well, be ready for a surprise. The band have declared this their roots-pop album and, while bluegrass elements are in evidence, the overall approach is far more mainstream. They ease you in, the chugging country-pop opener, 'If Something Breaks', one of several penned by lead singer Melody Walker, the hints of Fleetwood Mac setting you up for what follows, while, with new recruit Lief Karlstom's five string fiddle and Adam Roskiewicz's mandolin driving things along, 'Lonesome Town' is the instantly hummable, stomp along radio friendly side of bluegrass. But then comes the pizzicato mandolin and Jeremy Darrow's bass lines of the more soulful tinted 'Don't Want To Die Angry', the track gathering pace as Walker's voice soars defiantly and the fiddle echoes her emotional mood.

There's two covers, the first being the traditional 'Storms Are On The Ocean', a song popularised by the Carter Family back in 1927, though while the original is an old time bluegrass waltz, in Front Country's hands it takes on an unrecognisable far funkier, rock n roll sound, complete with Zeppelin-ish riffery. The second is the mandolin and fiddle driven version of David Olney's 'Millionaire', a bluesy roots politics-veined tale of greed, corruption and the misery and jealousy it brings, guitarist Jacob Groopman taking over on vocals.

There's also a brace of instrumentals from Roskiewicz, 'T.H.A.T.S.' (aka 'The Humpback and the Sloth') is a frisky fiddle and mandolin dominated tune, apparently derived from a short story he wrote to promote a gig, while the slower, elegiac two-minute 'It Sometimes Does' is a more traditional Appalachian-flavoured number inspired by bluegrass legend Bill Monroe.

The remaining songs are all Walker originals. The folksy broken heart slow waltz Undone the bluesy toned 'G.L.Y.P.' ('Good Looking Young People') and 'Good Side' all ballads, the latter showcasing her powerful voice and the guys' harmonies with its gospel-coloured a capella arrangement.

'O Heartbreaker' is more of a midtempo chug about the titular character's inability to love others while they can't love themselves, the album closing with a nod back to their banjo bluegrass roots on the upbeat don't give in positivism of 'Keep Travellin''. If this is the direction they're headed, let's hope they face front and continue to do so.

Mike Davies