Quick quiz: how many times have you heard a bluegrass album with harmonic voices? I can’t say that I ever have – until now (disclaimer: I’m no bluegrass expert). And it’s a very pleasant experience, I have to say. It’s not traditional bluegrass, in the way that Elvis Presley would have understood it (yes, Elvis had a bluegrass pedigree), but it’s definitely bluegrassy, with the right amount of precise playing and swooning lap steel.
At first listening this album is an entertainment: the songs are jaunty and robust and fun. On closer listening there is more going on in the lyrics – both funny (‘Karma’) and sad (‘Middle Ground’). After many listenings, some of the songs are actually a little more wistful than it seems at first (‘On the Run’, ‘Take Me There’, ‘Simply Complicated’, ‘Hands Are Tied’), so if you want to find something deeper on the album, it’s there. There’s also plenty for those who like their bluegrass at top speed (‘Madeline’, ‘Mando Madness’, ‘Safe to Go Back Now’) and those who like a more moderate tempo.
What’s required to put together a bunch of eclectic songs that are all technically the one type of song (i.e. bluegrass) is a fair degree of musical skill, and that’s certainly present. There’s also the distinct sense that the musos had a really good time making this album – and that usually only happens when they’ve done their preparation, written some solid songs and know their way around their instruments and voices, because then they can relax and enjoy the process. In sum, this is a great debut effort from Mustered Courage, and you don’t have to love – or even know about – bluegrass to appreciate it.
Mustered Courage by Mustered Courage is out now from Laughing Outlaw Records.