I couldn't help thinking I've been here before when I first listened to StrungOver's
new album, Avocado Shakedown. The album has a real vintage feel
to it; so much it seems that this album really plays like an instant classic.
If you are a bluegrass fan in any way, this album is a must. Packed with 15
tracks of all original material, including five instrumental tracks, the album
rides like a roller coaster. The playing at times leaves you shaking your head
We start things off with that funky monkey "Grass Monkey," which
takes a simple, bluesy riff and speeds it up into a bluegrass frenzy, giving
us just a glimpse of what this group is capable of. The one sound that really
sticks out, which seems to be a theme throughout, is the Dobro guitar, manned
by Rob Ickes. I realized just how talented this group is, instrumentally,
right around the 3-minute mark, when there is a "conversation" between
the mandolin and banjo, a string duel of sorts, played by twin brothers Jeremy
and Jason Lampel, respectively.
next tune, and my personal favorite, is "Rainy Eyes" sung by guitarist
and main vocalist for the band, Michael Thurman. This is just a beautiful
tune. This song gives us our first taste of StrungOver's vocals, and they are
fantastic. This song has such a timeless feeling to it; it's almost hard to
believe it's not a "traditional" tune that's been around forever.
We are also treated to some backing vocals and guest licks from fiddle player
extraordinaire Laurie Lewis.
Frankly, I could go over every track on this album and tell you all why I
dug it, but that would take too long. This album has something for everybody.
The vocal tracks are all very sturdy songs, with smart, interesting stories
to tell. The vocals are also very strong as well, with bassist Hugh Broughton
adding main vocals on "Another Saturday Night," one of his own originals.
Guest player Rob Ickes on Dobro is a pleasure throughout this album. His playing
is searing and precise, reminiscent of the "Dobro King" himself, Jerry
Douglas. While Rob is not a full time member of the band, I have the feeling
that he will be collaborating with StrungOver! many more times over the years
That leaves Jason and Jeremy Lampel. Though this group only formed about three
years ago, in 1999, I can't believe I wasn't familiar with either of these guys.
They are both masters, and I mean MASTERS, of their instruments. Jason has studied
with banjo greats Bill Evans and Tony Trishka, the guy who taught Bela Fleck
to play. He also placed second in the 2001 Rocky
Mountain Bluegrass Festival banjo contest.
There is something familiar about Jason's playing, but he also adds a jazzy,
modern touch to his playing, which distinguishes him from other pickers. Jeremy's
playing certainly conjures up images of the Dawg himself, but again there is
something different in his playing as well. Jeremy can pick as fast as anyone
I've ever heard, but he is also capable of taking listeners on long, high, abstract
journeys. He can go from fast shredding to sweet emotion-filled harmonies in
the span of a micro- second. In terms of modern day mando pickers, the only
one that might compare is Chris Thile of Nickel Creek. It wouldn't surprise
me one bit to learn that these brothers have been jamming together since they
could barely walk. They both have such a natural feel for their instruments
and both seem to add something unique, something that you can't necessarily
pick out, to each of their instruments.
There are only a few albums that I can truthfully say I en joyed every single
song, and Avocado Shakedown is one of them. StrungOver! has created one
of the best new bluegrass albums I've ever heard, and as far as I'm concerned,
this album is already a classic. The playing on this album is so wonderful and
skillful and produces images in mymind of all the greats that came before them.
This album will make a fine addition to anyone's collection.
Go Celtics (and See Live Music)!