The Greencards are determined to make history, not just repeat it.
They're off to a good start. Though they're steeped in the tradition of bluegrass, The Greencards weave influences as disparate as Bob Dylan, Ricky Skaggs and The Beatles into a compelling new brand of acoustic music. They honor the past, but refuse to live in it. That's why they continue to push at the boundaries of bluegrass and Americana music.
Their willingness to experiment and follow the music into unfamiliar territory has earned the band accolades from critics and fans alike. In their short existence, they formed at the beginning of 2003, The Greencards have hauled in a Best New Band award at the 2004 Austin Music Awards and been nominated for Best New Emerging Talent at the 2004 Americana Music Awards. The Houston Chronicle praised their performance as one of The Top 5 Houston concerts of 2004, ranking them with luminaries such as George Jones, David Bowie and Simon & Garfunkel. Texas music legend Robert Earl Keen says of their music, "It's the best bluegrass I've heard in 20 years."
The Greencards rapid rise to the top of the acoustic scene has been as natural and organic as the music they make. It all began in Austin, Texas, when Kym Warner (mandolin) and Carol Young (bass) met Eamon McLoughlin (fiddle) in a recording studio to work on a project for another artist. The connection was immediate and based on a shared love of traditional acoustic music. The trio decided to work together after jamming around and realizing they knew an inordinately large number of songs. They joined forces to try to crack the Austin music scene and landed a regular Sunday gig playing three-hour sets of bluegrass and country cover tunes.
"You have to start with something," says Warner. "We knew all these songs and wanted to play out so that's what we did. Part of the reason we all moved to the States was because we didn't have very many opportunities to play this kind of music in Australia and England."
Ah yes, that's the ironic part of the story-one of the hottest bands in America, making distinctly American music, is comprised of two Australians (Warner and Young) and a Brit (McLoughlin).
That's also why The Greencards music is so uniquely original. They learned traditional acoustic music because they loved it. Their passion was so strong they crossed oceans and continents to chase down the driving rhythm and high harmonies of bluegrass in the land where it was born. But, because of their backgrounds, they couldn't help but infuse their brand of bluegrass with a different, more global energy.
"We each have listened to so many kinds of things and that comes into the music we create," says Warner. "I listen to a lot of Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. Even some hard rock stuff like AC/DC."
"When I was a kid I listened to Ricky Skaggs almost exclusively," adds McLoughlin. "I really shunned pop music. As I grew up I realized how much of an influence Irish music was. My parents are Irish and I spend a lot of time there. I try to add some of that into what we do. As I got older, especially after I moved to America, I began listening to more English music - The Beatles, Richard Thompson. Maybe I'm getting hip in my old age."
Hip is exactly what the Austin music scene thought about The Greencards. Their Sunday gig began drawing crowds and before long the band was working four and five nights a week at various bars and restaurants. They were also quickly accumulating their own songbook of original material-enough to record an album.
Their debut record, Movin' On, released in 2004 was well received and began getting radio airplay in Texas. It opened some doors and led to better gigs, but was still very much a local success. The band, not long after the record's release, headed to Australia to play a few shows and visit family. That's when something interesting began happening.
"While we were gone, the album made it onto the Americana charts," says Warner. "Then all of the sudden it jumps up 20 spots. By the time we made it back to the States we were in the Top 20. We eventually made it up to No. 5. We started realizing that maybe we could get out on a national scale."
Young adds, "We were able to get some shows with Robert Earl Keen and Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. We started getting on some festivals like MerleFest. It all started happening pretty quickly."
Before long the band had over 200 dates under their belts and had sold close to 10,000 albums out of the back of their van and through the Internet. That's when Nashville labels started to take notice.
They eventually signed with Dualtone because of the label's willingness to let the band have creative control.
That meant The Greencards could produce their second album. They knew they wanted help engineering the record from Gary Paczosa (Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Dolly Parton). They just didn't know if they could get him. A chance meeting between McLoughlin and Paczosa at a dinner party opened the lines of communication that eventually led to a working relationship.
"It was a dream come true to work with him," says Warner. "He quite simply makes the best sounding acoustic records in the world. If we never do anything else, we'll always be able to say we worked with him. For that we are eternally thankful."
Fans of great acoustic music should be thankful as well. The collaboration was perfect and the results stunning.
Weather & Water is the record The Greencards were born to make. It's a seamless blend of old and new. The opening "Ghost of Who We Were," featuring Young's aching vocals is a plaintive tour de force that echoes Alison Krauss at her melodically melancholy best. "Almost Home" is a fluid instrumental that showcases the band's musical prowess. Tom Petty meets Bill Monroe on the languid, shimmering "Long Way Down." The centerpiece of the album-chronologically, musically and emotionally-is "Time." This standout track, a meditation on past experiences, mixes dreamy harmonies and a melody that rolls along like a lazy river.
The disc features track after track of a band at the top of its game and comfortable in its own skin.
"We tried to make this record more representative of us or at least who we think we are," says McLoughlin. "That takes a bit of confidence. It took that time playing together and getting feedback from audiences on our songs to get that. We feel like we know who we are now."
Young says, "It doesn't feel so far removed from the first album. It feels like a natural progression. It's The Greencards growing up and growing into ourselves."
The band says one of the best things about making their second album was being able to road test songs and get feedback from their unofficial fourth member-the audience.
"It's been great to test these songs with live audiences," says Warner. "They let you know what works."
McLoughlin, with his trademark deadpan humor, agrees on the importance of audience participation in the song selection process. "We had one tune that I thought was quite possibly the greatest instrumental of the 21st century. We played it once and barely got through it. There was a brief silence, then a smattering of applause. More as a courtesy than anything. It was a given that we would never discuss that song again."
They did, however, discuss many other songs as they pushed themselves to write and record an album that would stand the test of time. Rising to the challenge, the band wrote most of the tunes on this project. When they brought in outside material it was of the highest caliber. They corralled friend, and MCA recording star Jedd Hughes, into writing the Dylan-goes-Appalachian title track. Patty Griffin contributed "What You Are," a sparse and ethereal, but tenderly beautiful ballad.
Go ahead; take a listen to Weather & Water. Because if you listen carefully there's a distinct sound that comes through on The Greencards sophomore effort-one you don't get to hear very often.
It's the sound of history in the making.