September Pickin’ Edition: Rice Menzone Alliance, Billy Strings, Chatham County Line & The Lonely Heartstring Band

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Rice Menzone Alliance: Something Out Of The Blue

It’s been awhile since we’ve gotten our bluegrass on here at the RecommNeds, so let’s have at it. First up is a joining of forces between Wyatt Rice on guitar and Dan Menzone on banjo, calling themselves the Rice Menzone Alliance. Their combined-talents album is Something Out Of The Blue and it’s a nice twofer of progressive bluegrass: almost exactly half instrumental, half with vocals, almost all original music and all showing that the talents of Rice and Menzone are better together than separately, not to mention a nice backing band (fiddle, mandolin, dobro). If excellent no-frills pickin’ is your thing, give this one a spin.

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Billy Strings: Billy Strings EP

Stepping out on his own with this self-titled debut, the guitarist who very appropriately calls himself Billy Strings is one you’ll want to get acquainted with right quick. Over six over-too-quickly tracks, half originals, half traditional tunes, the EP is an exciting arrival-on-the-scene statement. The songs were recorded let-the-tape-run, live-in-studio style and the energy and chemistry that Strings and his fellow musicians have shines through. The playing is scintillating all-around, and he proves himself both on his guitar and with a voice perfectly suited to the classic-but-modern material. Looking forward to hearing more from Billy Strings.

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Chatham County Line: Autumn

Just in time for autumn, comes Autumn, the newest album from Chatham County Line. While the band has plenty of talent on their instruments, what stands out on this album is the songwriting. Exquisite imagery, emotional punch and witty storytelling shine through on each track, elevating the record beyond just a noteworthy genre piece. The nice thing is that it stays rooted and recognizably bluegrass, without unnecessary embellishments or deviations. Which is all just a long-winded way of saying that this is a flat-out excellent album.

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The Lonely Heartstring Band: Deep Waters

Finally, I can definitely recommend The Lonely Heartstring Band out of Boston. Yes, bluegrass bands can come from Boston as well and these mighty fine musicians grew out of the Berklee College of Music, a source of so many great musicians and groups over the years. The story goes the group formed in part to put together a set of The Beatles tunes for a wedding (hence the name), and those origins seem to inform the band’s sound which mix a Beatles-songy ethos – fun melodies and excellent harmonies – with that recognizable bluegrass instrumentation. Their new album, Deep Waters, has a couple great covers – “Graceland,” “If I Had A Hammer” – but, of course, it’s the great originals that make the record.

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