Bunch of Grass may hail from Germany, but in listening to this self-titled debut it’s hard to pin them to any specific locale. The fact is, they maintain all the bluegrass basics, from crisp instrumentation to the intellect and emotion needed to make the music ring. The band — Bernd Muller (vocals, bass), Steffen Thede (harmony vocals, banjo), Susanne Sievers (vocals, fiddle), Markus Rapke (vocals, guitar, mixing and mastering), and Jesper Rubmer-Petersen (mandolin) are remarkably adroit, and their affection for the form is apparent on each the offerings. It’s a tribute to their influences and ability that they excel as much as they do, especially considering the fact that this new album marks their first step forward.
That said, the group isn’t exactly reticent about extolling their own efforts. They tout the new album as “Fine American Bluegrass Music,” but given its sound and delivery, they’re not exaggerating the claim to any undue extent. An even mix of classic covers and their own original compositions, it’s an impressive set of songs that successfully syncs throughout. Energy and exhilaration are two of the primary factors at play, as evidenced at the outset with the rambunctious ramble of Bitterweeds, the rousing revelry shared through Bluebird Blackbird and the frenzied instrumental outlays that characterize Rendezvous with a Hummingbird and the Bill Monroe/Kenny Baker classic, Bluegrass In The Backwoods.
Indeed, the sentiment remains intact throughout, from the tender and touching Down by the River (no, not the Neil Young song of the same name) to the nimble and nostalgic Smoky Mountain Home. The latter is so affecting in fact, it’s hard to believe that it comes from Muller’s pen and not a devoted denizen of those environs. Then again, there’s not a single song here that betrays the fact that Bunch of Grass are anything but the homegrown denizens they emulate so well. So too, it’s hard to single out any song as a stand-out, but if weren’t for that uniform consistency, Like theTide and High Road would surely be considered contenders.
Likewise, it’s difficult to understate the competence and credibility Bunch of Grass has established so early on. Their joy and jubilation easily rival that of any outfit with a far greater resume and trajectory. One can only imagine that Bunch of Grass will continue to grow with every offering that follows.