On its second album, and first studio release, StrungOver! touches upon the inexplicable elements that make acoustic music enjoyable. With a traditional lineup of mandolin, guitar, bass and banjo, the fact that the band calls Santa Cruz, CA home might be a bit puzzling. However, bassist Hugh Broughton and guitarist Michael Thurman are originally from South Carolina, and twin brothers Jeremy and Jason Lampel hail from New York City. These musicians started their musical relationship in 1999 on the streets of Santa Cruz, and now StrungOver! has created an album that is full of bluegrass roots but gleams with the unique mixture of the members.
The opening instrumental "Grass Monkey" owes as much to James Brown as it does to Bill Monroe, as the marvelously toothy newgrass intro morphs into a party of solos with a hint of funk. Rob Ickes makes this tune extra special with nice solos and comping on the resophonic guitar. "Rainy Eyes" and "Carolina Moon" are heavily on the traditional side, with guest vocalist/fiddler Laurie Lewis adding her sugary singing and vibrant fiddle work to the former. "Carolina Moon" skips along a dusty road with high lonesome harmonies and lyrics that fondly remember the blue skies and band heritage of the region. "Out On The Water" is another song inspired by South Carolina, and through Thurman's vivid lyrics you can practically feel the splash of a childhood friend's creekside cannonball on a sunny day. Lewis again lends her fiddle and vocals to the gentle waltz of "She Used To be Mine" and the lovelorn "Another Saturday Night." The Grisman-esque instrumental "Buzzard’s Roost" shows just how hot this band's pickin' is, spurred on once again by Ickes and his seriously slide-riffic guitar. A legendary bluegrass musician could have easily written the conversational "Father’s Farewell" decades ago. Instead the tune lingered and fell into the capable hands of StrungOver!, and it could be the highlight of the album. "Jar Jar's Dream" is just that - a dreamy instrumental propelled at cruising speed by Jason Lampel's cosmic and sometimes atonal banjo work. The title track is a recipe for an energetic bluegrass throwdown. The members trade solos deftly while keeping full control of the song’s freewheeling structure.
The variety, dexterity, and sensibility of this disc makes it highly noticeable in the difficult-to-differentiate realm of acoustic music outfits. StrungOver!'s Avocado Shakedown is an album that will raise your eyebrows and stoke your appreciation for these natural pickers.
JamBase | North Carolina
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