The Bombadils are a Canadian four-piece outfit comprising Sarah Frank, Luke Fraser, Anh Phung and Alan Mackie. Their press release proclaims them as purveyors of "chamber-folk", but I find that tag a trifle misleading, at least as regards the immediate impression gained on listening to Grassy Roads, Wandering Feet, the band's second album release (the first being 2012's Fill Your Boots). Certainly, the opening pair of tracks (Rocky Mountain Path and Where Will This Prayer Go?), both originals by band members, have in common a keen, fresh newgrassy feel that closer approximates the worlds of Nickel Creek and Tim O'Brien, both stylistically and in terms of delivery.
The band's distinctive scoring (fiddle/banjo, mandolin, guitar, flute/whistle and upright bass) is both highly adept and intelligently managed, with ample space for the instrumental lines to breathe; perhaps most unusually for this kind of band, the flute is a comparatively prominent element in the overall texture, while mandolin and fiddle hold their rightful place very effectively indeed. The band members have chops rooted in both classical and jazz (all having trained at Montreal's McGill University), but their freewheeling, adventurous spirit enables them to manoeuvre unassumingly outside those disciplines into the broader folk climes for much of the time.
As the album moves on, we encounter a slightly jazzed-up Newfoundland shanty (Heave Away) which has shades of Pint & Dale, a better-than-decent take on the traditional Black Is The Colour, and a number of further fine examples of Sarah's compositional and arranging skills: the two-part instrumental Hazeldean, which features some neat harmonica and fiddle work; a lovely setting of Yeats' poem Song Of The Wandering Aengus; and the upbeat uptempo bluegrass of the comfortingly romantic Hour Of The Blue Snow. Luke's no slouch either in the compositional stakes (witness the wistful Nova Scotia Goodbye and the perceptive life's Portrait), and neither is Anh (the spiky Milk And Money), while the exceptional playing and well-coordinated group-collaboration of the uplifting, gently thrilling closing instrumental set proves thoroughly enjoyable on all counts.
Grassy Roads, Wandering Feet is a really delightful record, soaked through with duly dextrous, truly symbiotic musicianship that's the province of closely-knit young people who've grown their music together, and drawing on the best of celtic and bluegrass tradition which, infused with folk and chamber-jazz, here concocts something of a special brew. Highly engaging from the outset, and both appealing and very satisfying - I so wish I'd discovered the Bombadils earlier, for their music is certainly "hobbit-forming"!
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