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 in bewilderment.

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.

The 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 to come.

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.

Sam Katz
JamBase Boston
Go Celtics (and See Live Music)!

[Published on: 3/4/03]

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