Singer/banjo player Matt Menefee and singer/mandolin player Bryan Simpson — collectively known as The Golden Age — are spirited auteurs obviously inspired by bluegrass, but at the same time, also clearly capable of imbuing an emphatic imprint of their own. There’s an edge and originality that’s reflected within their dynamic debut, I’m Sure It’ll Be Fine, an EP that shines with plucky arrangements, a full finesse, and plenty of free-spirited exploration. Not surprisingly, they bear a similarity of sorts to the Punch Brothers, courtesy of a willingness to go beyond the boundaries and ply their own personalities through the proceedings. The results — especially as manifested in songs such as the appropriately inventive Encyclopedia Galactica and the fanciful Weirdo — make for some lively listening initially while also begging a return time and time again.
The duo’s animated sound was borne from their formative years making music with the band Cadillac Sky, an experience that brought them into contact with producer Dan Auerbach, their mentor Ricky Skaggs, and the band Mumford & Sons, with whom they performed on the Mumfords’ initial North American tour. Inspired by their rediscovery of records by their hero John Hartford and their admiration for such contemporary combos as The Avett Brothers and Béla Fleck, they then opted to go out on their own. In doing so, it allowed an opportunity to pursue a sonic palette that honored tradition while also investing an ample amount of contemporary creativity as well.
Nowhere is that more obvious than on Price of Life/Death, a relatively hushed instrumental incursion fleshed out with dramatic changes in tone and texture, and If Rifles Shot Roses, a plaintive ballad that bears more than a hint of melancholia as well as a sound that shares a certain similarity to that of the Avetts. On the other hand, the upbeat My Drunk Uncle counters that low-cast impression with an unbridled exuberance that sounds somewhat unhinged, but provides an enthusiastic additive nevertheless.
It’s a credit to their instrumental acumen that the pair pull it all off with such deftness and agility. So too, credit a capable backing band which ably fleshes out the arrangements with fiddle, guitar, stand-up bass, and backing vocals. Granted, seven songs make for a modest debut, but it’s also indicative of the fact that there will be more memorable music to come.