There’s a lot to be said for a band that mines the buoyant sounds of vintage bluegrass while also paying heed to music and melodies that quickly connect, and leave the listener swooning and swaying with joy and jubilation. Those are the qualities that have allowed modern grassicana outfits like Mandolin Orange, Punch Brothers, Town Mountain, and the Steep Canyon Rangers to successfully score crossover appeal and make their mark in the broader marketplace.
Those are also the elements embraced by The Plate Scrapers, a band from Virginia and western Maryland that kicked off a career in 2014 and haven’t stopped since. Five albums on, they’ve released their best effort yet, a set of songs whose title Destination Horizon offers an indication that indeed they’ve reached a point in that progression where all their skills have come together and found a cohesive fit.
For starters, they prove their prowess as it applies to their instrumental interplay. That’s quickly proven by the perky pace of the album opener, Fly With Me, the driving jam performance of Clangly, and the energetic undertones of Ancient Mysteries. It’s that frenzy and finesse which stirs up a blustery blend even on many of the more melodic tunes, although it’s never allowed to overshadow the sentiment found in those songs themselves. Love Song, Last Train, and Mountain find the band offering an emotional embrace, one that rings with sweetness and satisfaction. The appeal is real and, in turn, allows for a contemporary connection that transcends style or genre.
That’s not to say they lack regard for their roots; the romantic ramble Country Heartache is all its name implies. Dead Man recalls the romanticism of the old west in a way that would likely make cowboy king Marty Robbins proud. On the other hand, the casual saunter that drives Repair Around the Corner finds ordinary circumstance becoming far more engaging than an otherwise casual encounter. In that regard, Fooled Again shares lessons worth learning.
The band — Derek Kretzer (banjo, vocals), Andrew Jordan (guitar, vocals), Brett Kretzer (mandolin, vocals), Jody Mosser (dobro, lap steel), and Kevin Johnson (upright bass), along with special guest fiddler Dave Van Deventer — demonstrate an instinctive ability to alter the tone, taking it from tenderness to tenacity as needed. In so doing, that earnest intent retains a firm focus. It proves that progress isn’t simply about reaching one’s destination, but also appreciating the journey that it takes to get there.