Hearing Carolina Red for the first time provides no hint whatsoever that the band that recorded it it, Red Wine, hails from any environs other than the United States. Indeed, the influences are so firmly imbued in solid bluegrass terrain that no one would feel the need to investigate their origins. Likewise, the fact that Jens Kruger of the Kruger Brothers thought enough of them to produce this album fully attests to their credence and conviction.
The only indication that Red Wine hails from Italy — or for that matter – any realms beyond our borders — is found in the third song of the set, the lovely ballad La Canzone Dell’amore Perduto. It’s sung in Italian and it means… well, we’re not sure, but it’s lovely regardless. With their stirring vocals and the forward thrust of banjo, mandolin, dobro and guitar, the foursome recreate a wholly American sound that rings with a richness and resilience that’s as fresh and full as that produced by any Appalachian ensemble.
Of course, it takes more than simply emulating a certain style to create a sound that’s singularly compelling. A lively take on Tom Petty’s American Girl opens the proverbial door to that possibility, but, in fact, there’s not a single song amongst this baker’s dozen that doesn’t ring with exuberance or enthusiasm. The driving determination echoed in Evergreen, Henry Hill, Sad Parting, Sad Goodbye and Start Sawing on the Strings suggests that this band doesn’t simply offer homage, but takes the form further through their own methods.
Constrained by distance and logistics, Red Wine can only occasionally tour in the United States, but they have developed a strong following here over their long history as a band. Performing together since 1978, and with a number of recordings to their credit, Red Wine has earned the reputation as Europe’s dominant bluegrass act.
It’s execution, not origin that matters most here. Carolina Red is a very fine vintage indeed, and like any fine wine, one that’s well worth savoring.
Audio samples can be heard online.