By Aaron Stein
Bluegrass is a blooming, living thing, sprouting all sorts of new tentacles, some of which stay close to home, some which become a new home for another colony of offspring, and some which sever ties almost altogether. Within each of these branches there are still dozens of types and brands, each with their own influences and followers. It’s not too important exactly where Hot Buttered Rum String Band resides on this knotty pine of a family tree. What is important is that they’re in there somewhere, that their branch is growing fat and long, and that they surely belong wherever it is they are found.
And probably the best place to find them is live, onstage, in front of an adoring audience, making exciting music in the moment. That’s a great place to be, an admirable place to thrive, in fact I can think of no better. The problem is that bands like HBRSB (I will only type that once, thank you!) need to make albums too, and sometimes albums don’t capture the magic that some bands like HBRSB have, which brings us to Well-Oiled Machine, their latest album. It’s a fine piece of work, and it sounds great. It’s just kind of “blah.” There’s nothing in the recording that sets it apart, that makes you feel like it’s on a unique branch of the tree, that oozes with the magic of a live performance. I listen to Well-Oiled Machine, and I don’t think “masterpiece,” nor do I think “I need to get out to a Hot Buttered show right now!” I think “generic bluegrass music.” It’s not progressive enough to show off any of the band's improvisational talents, and it’s not traditional enough to compete with the classics. There’s no sin in that – this is an album not for bluegrass fanatics or for music-lovers who can find what this album is dishing in more appealing forms from other parts of the bluegrass bush. But for those of you who can’t get enough fruit from the HBRSB branch in your daily diet, these pickin’s are just for you.
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