Some time ago, I was sent a promo video of a hot Bluegrass band from San Francisco called Front Country. I was hugely impressed by their energy and their virtuosity and made a mental note that they would be an ideal band to play at Grateful Fred's. Fortunately, Grateful Fred himself thought the same and booked them ,for what would be their first gig outside America.
Thus it was that Melody Walker [vocals,guitar], Jacob Groopman [vocals,guitar], Adam Roszkiewicz [mandolin] , Leif Karlstrom [violin] and Jeremy Darrow [double bass] made their somewhat tortuous journey from the West Coast of the USA to the West Coast of the UK [via Reykjavik !] or ,if you prefer ,from the land of the Grateful Dead to the home of Grateful Fred.
Clearly, the band's reputation for being an amazing live act had preceded them ,as The Studio at The Atkinson was packed to capacity for this eagerly-awaited gig.
From the very first notes of "One Kind Word", it was clear why this band had won major contests ,including both the Rockygrass and Telluride competitions ,as their playing is simply stunning ,as amply demonstrated on "Daysleeper" ,from their debut album "Sake Of The Sound".This superb "progressive bluegrass" instrumental featured exemplary solos from Jacob [guitar] , Leif [violin] and its composer Adam on mandolin. As on the album , the song segues into Melody's excellent song "Undertaker" ,which features her gloriously soulful vocals . Melody has the distinction of being the only person in bluegrass with pink hair!
Melody also wrote the atmospheric "Colorado" ,on which the band really stretched out, with an extended instrumental section ,as they also did on the epic "Goldrush Goddess" . These extended instrumental passages hark back to an earlier era of West Coast music ; are they the world's only bluegrass jam-band?
Whilst Front Country play mostly self-written material, they gave us a couple of excellent cover songs. They gave us a beautiful version of Utah Phillips' song of despair "Rock Salt and Nails" , with delicate mandolin and eerie violin. The other was a glorious rendition of Don Henley's hit "Boys of Summer" which is due to appear of a Covers EP by Front Country.
The title track of "Sake Of The Sound" ,written by Melody, is ,perhaps, the band's most "commercial" number with its choppy rhythm and catchy chorus and it certainly went down well tonight with the capacity crowd.
To end their set Front Country surpassed themselves with a fantastic, funky performance of a traditional gospel song, "Gospel Train" which featured Melody's wonderfully soulful Joplinesque vocals . A fabulous way to end a brilliant show.
However, this wasn't quite the end as tonight's support artists ,the excellent alt-country singer -songwriter Mark Pountney and The Grateful Fred's Ukulele Trio joined Front Country on stage for an ensemble version of Smokey Robinson and Al Cleveland's "I Second That Emotion".
Several members of the audience said that this was one of the best Grateful Fred's Nights yet.
I second that emotion.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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