Though numerous countries across Europe are home to bluegrass musicians, the Czech Republic seems to be one of the most popular lately. Faculty members from East Tennessee State University recently released a documentary chronicling the bluegrass scene within the country, and Pete Wernick just announced that he will hold his first European Jam Camp in the country’s capital, Prague. Prague will also play host to this year’s European Bluegrass Summit.
One of the most recent Czech bluegrass albums to make its way across the Atlantic is the debut release from The Giant Mountains Band, Long Lonesome Road.
Throughout the album’s twelve tracks, the members of The Giant Mountains Band prove that they certainly know their way around modern traditional bluegrass. Anchored by the driving banjo playing of David Kazimir and the traditionally-influenced songwriting of American mandolin player Lucien Holmes, the group puts forth an enjoyable effort that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside the large crop of new modern traditional groups that have sprung up in the wake of the Lonesome River Band.
The album opens on a strong note with Borrowed Time, an upbeat, driving number about a man who seems to follow in the footsteps of numerous bluegrass ramblers before him. Way Back Home also finds inspiration in the traditional bluegrass songbook, with the singer returning home to find “the porch swing’s busted down, dad and mama are in the ground.” Though fairly driving, it’s wistful and lonesome. Dreamed of North Dakota has a similar theme, though the singer in this number is wishing to return home after coming upon some hard luck. A highlight of both songs is Jan Kadlec’s spot-on fiddling.
My First Love is a fine classic-sounding song that might have been recorded by Bill Monroe or Jimmy Martin if it had been written sixty years ago. In the song, the singer meets a lady and falls in love with her, but soon loses her and though he searches for years, cannot find her. The title track is also enjoyable, with hints of early Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver in its sound. Oceans Apart looks more toward a classic country feel, particularly on the smooth vocal arrangement.
The only song here not written by Holmes is Train 420, the album closer. Its sound is quite different from the rest of the songs, and features the addition of drums and electric guitar (from Martin Pacholik and Alexandr Novotny) alongside the band’s standard bluegrass instrumentation. It’s definitely interesting, and surely one the band has fun with at live shows, but the electric guitar in particular seems somewhat out of place.
While United States audiences might not be familiar with The Giant Mountains Band, they will definitely recognize their sound. The band members, including Holmes (mandolin and lead vocals), Kadlec (fiddle and harmony vocals), Kazimir (banjo and harmony vocals), Petr Polacek (guitar, lead and harmony vocals), and Petr Zboril (bass) are all very talented and have obviously studied traditional bluegrass. Fans of the modern traditional sound should enjoy this album.
For more information on The Giant Mountains Band, visit their website at www.gmband.cz. Their album can be purchased from their website and several online music retailers.