Mashville Brigade: Bluegrass Smash Hits, Volume 1

The Mashville BrigadeThe Mashville Brigade may not be that familiar a name to most festival going bluegrass fans, but the individual members of the band should be. The Brigade is comprised of: Aaron McDaris (The Grascals) on banjo and harmony vocals; Darrell Webb (Rhonda Vincent & The Rage) on guitar and lead vocals; Ashby Frank (Special Consensus) lead vocals and mandolin; Jim VanCleve (Mountain Heart) on fiddle; and Randy Barnes (NewFound Road) on bass.

The Brigade is today’s modern version of the Sidemen. Started a year or so ago as a fun midweek gig at The Station Inn in Nashville, The Mashville Brigade releases it’s first CD on April 22, 2008. The CD is produced by the band’s own Jim VanCleve, and contains 16 tracks, all of them standard bluegrass hits. Bearing the title Bluegrass Smash Hits, Volume 1, this disc is the first in a new series of releases planned by Rural Rhythm Records.

Ashby Frank commented on the genesis of the group.

I’ve gotten to pick with these guys at various festivals and in the halls and rooms of events like IBMA, SPBMGA, and the Galax Fiddlers Convention for years. Since we both grew up in North Carolina, I’ve known Jim for the longest, actually before I even really got into Bluegrass. The first time I ever played on a Bluegrass Festival stage was with Jim in Denton, NC. I think we put together a band with my sister and opened up the festival on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Randy, Darrell, Jim, Aaron and myself have performed with each other as a part of quite a few different collaborations, through fill-in work or special events like the MACC Festival in Columbus, OH. Once all of us had moved to Nashville, we talked about getting something together to play around town and maybe a festival or two. It took us a few years to get together, but it’s finally worked out, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

The band started basically as a new version of the Sidemen, the infamous group that used to perform every Tuesday night at the Station Inn. The Mashville Brigade started filling that same time slot and as Jim VanCleve tells it, one thing just led to another.

The Mashville Brigade has really grown into something much larger than we ever could have anticipated from when we first began playing at the Station Inn a little over a year ago. It all basically started as an outlet for us to have some fun while playing the music we all grew up on. But since the bluegrass culture around Nashville is really a pretty tight-knit bunch of friends, we suddenly had a good sized audience each Tuesday night, full of friends and family, in a room that is known for bringing out the best in people. This comfortable atmosphere really allowed the music to grow and take on it’s own unique personality. It was really starting to blow up, and the crowds just kept getting better each week. So, after some time, we started thinking, “this band really needs to record something”! Now, after listening back to the masters of the Mashville Brigade’s first album, I can honestly say that we are all very happy with what we were able to do!

The CD was recorded in a rather unique manner for the age we live in. The guys met at the Station Inn, their primary creative outlet, during the daylight hours and tracked the entire thing in under 8 hours with no overdubs.

We recorded this album with kind of a “throw back” philosophy in mind. We set everything up on the stage of the Station Inn, gathered in circle around the microphones, and just played! So, if somebody missed something, we had to start the whole song over. Plus, we recorded the entire album in the span of about eight hours one day in January. We didn’t have a crowd in there, as we were recording during the daylight hours. But, it was really interesting to record like that. There was an added element of pressure to get it right the first time, and that was actually a lot of fun, I thought! As we were recording, you couldn’t help but think of how Lester and Earl and Bill must have felt in their classic sessions so many years ago!

Normally CDs are only recorded outside the studio if it’s to be a live performance in front of an audience, but Ashby says they chose the Station Inn for several reasons.

Like Jim said, our philosophy was really an old school mindset. We all gathered round in a circle on stage at the Inn. That place is really a second home to all of us. We’ve been playing there most Tuesday nights for a year and we wanted to record there to capture the vibe, energy, and looseness that we’re used to having at those shows.

The CD opens with My Home’s Across The Bluegrass Mountains and the hits keep coming. For fans of traditional bluegrass, this will be a must have recording. The guys do it up right. The playing is immaculate, perfectly timed, tasteful, traditional and yet innovative. These guys may be young, but it’s clear they understand what hard driving traditional bluegrass is all about. Tunes like White House Blues will make you want to play along, if you can keep up! The four instrumental tracks are some of my favorite cuts on the disc, but all the tunes are bluegrass SMASH hits performed by a group of young pickers who’ll make you feel good about the future of traditional bluegrass music.

Here’s the track listing:

  • My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains
  • Banks of the Ohio
  • White House Blues
  • John Henry (instrumental)
  • Take This Hammer
  • Sitting on the Top of the World
  • Two Dollar Bill
  • Bury Me Beneath the Willow
  • Little Maggie
  • Going Across the Sea (instrumental)
  • I’ll Remember You Love In My Prayers
  • Lonesome Road Blues
  • Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone
  • Salt Creek (instrumental)
  • Roving Gambler
  • Sally Goodin’ (instrumental)

I don’t think I could say it any better than Ashby did in his last comment to me.

This record is definitely a traditional Bluegrass record with very traditional songs, but there’s a good bit of contemporary feel that goes along with us being younger players. We always try to have as much fun as possible, and make our shows as high energy as possible. We want people to have a good time and come back and see us whenever they can. Hopefully this recording gives listeners that feeling, and lets them feel like they’re hanging out in Downtown Nashville enjoying a good night of hardcore Bluegrass.

It did for me.

If you need a fix of hardcore, traditional bluegrass music with a throbbing pulse and insistent drive, you’ll want to pick this CD up as soon as you can.

Audio clips are available on the group’s Myspace page.