By Kerry Heffernan
Laps in Seven, Sam Bush's new album, is nothing short of spectacular. The journey that Bush lays out for the listener is one that constantly twists and turns through bluegrass, rock, folk, and country. His musical practices have helped to modernize the often hillbilly sound of traditional bluegrass music, catapulting the genre into the "newgrass" era - an era where college kids and business professionals are as into the sound as the mountain-men who formed the style so long ago. Reaching back to his expert roots, Bush puts it all out on the table, bringing his mandolin playing to a new level of precision. The resulting product is a crisp, clean sound that takes you down an old country road and back.
Country starlet Emmylou Harris lends her chops on the opening tune, "The River's Gonna Run." The ominous-sounding song is the perfect opening for this record. There is a constant build, the beat is strong, and the lyrics speak of an impending event. That event is the ride that the listener is about to take. "Bringing in the Georgia Mail" showcases Bush's superb mandolin skills. The song is a perfect example of the quick-paced finger-plucking that gets everyone out of their seats, and it was a nice conventional addition to the updated sounds of the rest of the CD.
Keeping in time with the meticulousness of the album, the dual harmony on "White Bird" is beautiful and pure, and the Hurricane Katrina-inspired tune, "I Wanna Do Right," contains a percussion section, gospel-like background vocals, and Bush's slide mandolin stylings, which give the song a distinctly appropriate bayou feel. A welcome addition to many of the songs on this record, and perhaps a reason for the "newgrass" ideal, is the addition of electric elements in a seemingly acoustic-only world. The electric bass, provided by Byron House, makes an appearance on several songs such as "The Dolphin Dance," "On the Road," and "Laps in Seven." The smoother, more muted tone of the electric bass creates a strong sense of the present in songs that hold on to a customary bluegrass feel.
But the new is what's happening, and Bush makes no qualms about it. In the bouncy "Ridin' that Bluegrass Train," Bush testifies to us all that not only is he riding that bluegrass train, he is also "ridin' that newgrass train." With Sam on that vessel, it's sure to be one hell of a ride.
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