Like so many of us, in and out of bluegrass, the members of Unspoken Tradition had big plans for 2020, touring in support of, and planning their follow-up to, 2019’s superb Myths We Tell Our Young.
But COVID interrupted those plans, casting a long, dark cloud over the landscape. The quintet – to borrow a line from Carolina and Tennessee, the song that kicks off the band’s new project, Imaginary Lines – “walked in the shadow of hard times, waiting for the sun to shine.”
Now, at long last, the hard times are fading and the sun is shining again. If this CD from Mountain Home Music Co. is any indication, the band’s deferred dreams were worth the wait.
From the kickoff guitar riff of the opening song, Imaginary Lines is fresh and folky. The direction is a not-so-subtle reminder that bluegrass is a broad canvas that is best when not confined within narrow lines, real or imaginary.
“The intent was for us to push our own boundaries and not be constrained by what a bluegrass band is supposed to sound like,” said mandolinist Ty Gilpin. “All that really matters are songs that people can universally relate to.” Mission accomplished.
The best songs here, in one guy’s subjective view, have a deeply rooted sense of place. There are places where we are, and places where we long to be, and they aren’t always the same. This was especially true in the last two-plus years, which I’m certain is why these songs resonate so much for me now.
On the macro side – “places” writ large – are Carolina and Tennessee, written by Aaron Bibelhauser and Pat Younger, and California, a song from Thomm Jutz and Miriam Speyer that’s already topped the charts. The micro side is well represented by Lookout Mountain (Charles Humphrey III and Phil Barker), Gilpin’s Soldiers of Dust and Back on the Crooked Road from Tim Stafford and producer Jon Weisberger.
The lead vocals from bassist Sav Sankaran and guitarist Audie McGinnis are inviting and soothing, reminding me a lot of Firefall, the 1970s band that helped define the soft rock era. And they are, interchangeably, the perfect complement for the compelling picking. Tim Gardner on fiddle and Zane McGinnis on banjo add the drive on top of the solid rhythm base laid down by Sankaran, Gilpin and Audie McGinnis.
It all adds up to music that’s perfect for hanging out on the porch on a sultry summer day, or gathering with friends around the firepit in the evening. You know, the kinds of things we used to take for granted. It’s good to be able to do those things again, and it’s great to have Imaginary Lines as part of the soundtrack for getting back to normal.