June 2006

Jan Smith - 29 Songs
Landslide Records LDCD-1034
Format: CD
Released: 2006

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****
 

Blueground Undergrass - Faces
Landslide Records LDCD-1033
Format: CD
Released: 2006

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

by David J. Cantor
davidc@soundstage.com

Bluegrass is the foundation for a wide range of music. Some "grassers" sound like Bill Monroe or other originators, others more like rockers. Jan Smith’s 29 Dances and Blueground Undergrass's Faces differ greatly, but both derive from and contribute to the bluegrass tradition.

29 Dances is more conventional but doesn’t lack creativity. Unlike many singer-songwriters, Smith offers a fair amount of social comment -- more religious than political. Smith sings well, leading a skilled and inventive traditional bluegrass band -- fiddle, banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar, vocals -- with electric bass and guitar added.

Influenced more by Southern and country rock, Blueground Undergrass adds covers of Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter, and Bill Danoff numbers to its many original songs. Rock-style jams lengthen the tracks -- not wandering, aimless jams but well-structured ones that build to good lead-ins for subsequent verses. Some of the songs reflect on serious matters beyond the merely personal.

One key to their rock sound the is the full drum kit added to acoustic and electric guitars, standard bluegrass instruments, and fine vocal harmonies. Blueground Undergrass's "wall of twang" sometimes sounds a little like mud between the bricks, with the individual bricks indistinct. 29 Songs is a tad more crisply recorded, each instrument its own brick -- coherent sound without the "wall" effect. But each of these albums offers its own unique bluegrass adventure worth experiencing.


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