Towards the outer edge of bluegrass, in that area pioneered by the Seldom Scene and J. D. Crowe, where powerful drive meets outsider songwriting, where Tony Rice sings Gordon Lightfoot – that's where you'll find Geoff Union. His music is a steam-powered bluegrass train driven at full throttle, wheels coming off the inside rails, going around the bend and slamming down hard again in the straightaway.
Union recently completed an eight-song recording of original numbers, Cold As Steel. Backed by a tight, five-piece bluegrass band and set for release in September of 2012, the album's rhythmically charged style stands apart. While the flatpicking draws strongly from tradition (Watson, White, Rice, Blake, Sutton), the songwriting is a breed apart, not for the faint of heart. Listeners are taken on an unexpected journey, venturing into dark territory away from the safety of standard themes of feelings, love and loss.
There is a certain allegiance to obscurity in the storytelling, whether it be recounting tales of rebellious moonshinery ("Spirit of '94", "Lewis Redmond") or the story of Union's own grandfather, who faked the flooding loss of a massive barrel corrugator machine in the 1940s so he could steal it, head south and be his own man ("Cold as Steel"). The album also features two dynamic instrumental numbers — one with a fiddle tune feel ("Fannie at the Front Door") and another in a minor swing, reminiscent of early Dawg ("Half Past Zero").
Union has been playing, writing, and singing in bluegrass and acoustic bands in Austin, Texas for more than 15 years. He has performed at RockyGrass, MerleFest and a host of festivals and concert stages across the country with The Two High String Band, and continues to perform with longtime THSB band mate and mandolinist Billy Bright.
Austin may be considered far away from the nerve center of bluegrass music, but perhaps it is that distance that has opened the door to this unique perception, one that has a little bit of Texas in a cup full of Tennessee. Geoff Union's years and miles have made the flavor in that cup rich and strong – a flavor that will last well beyond this mile, and this year.