While most bands make no secret of their desire to execute their music with a full flourish, Barbaro, a burgeoning bluegrass band from Minneapolis, take the opposite tack, using finesse, subtlety and intricacy to achieve a decidedly supple sound. Dressed in Roses, the band’s debut full-length offering, goes to great lengths to affirm the delicate designs suggested by the album’s title, resulting in a stirring musical mix that makes good use of banjo, bass, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin in order to achieve those more melodic intents.
The band — singer, guitarist and primary songwriter Kyle Shelstad, banjo player Isaac Sammis, fiddler and singer Rachel Calvert, and bassist Jason Wells, along with guest mandolin player Julian Davis — derive their influences from a variety of genres, among them, jazz, classical music, chamber music, and, of course, bluegrass and grassicana, to serve up a sound that reflects elements of each. It’s that decidedly thoughtful approach, as suggested by such songs as Aunt Betty and Cold Stack, that ultimately results in their taut yet tender sound.
Barbaro has clearly mastered the ability to combine tone and texture in a way that doesn’t deter from any forward thrust. On the other hand, the complex instrumental sound that largely defines this effort also doesn’t detract from its more delicate designs. Songs such as Kawliga and Montana, OH are two of the more specific examples.
That spacious sound and the shimmering set-up also allow moments of quiet reflection. In fact, many of the songs literally bask in those tender trappings, thanks to Shelstad’s ability to turn his internal introspective into a shared perspective. The tempered yet tender Loathe finds him focusing on the divide between love and distrust that infiltrates most committed relationships, while, in a similar sense, the rousing Cold Stack ponders the need to adjust one’s attitude and intents to achieve a more fulfilling existence. It’s telling as well that the band takes its name from an ill-fated racehorse that won the hearts of its fans, but endured a difficult existence in the process.
To be sure, there are more energetic moments even in the midst of these heady endeavors. The jaunty Pancake and a Bad Idea, the engaging Mississippi Thunder Speedway, and the upbeat Rita Cline ought to rouse those in need of some regal revelry.
All in all, Dressed in Roses provides a bountiful bouquet and a remarkably rich one at that. Make no mistake — it’s just that good.