A century-old adobe building is definitely not a common setting for recording albums – particularly those which feature traditional music. However, for New Mexico-based group The Hard Road Trio, this was the perfect location for their Americana-flavored style of music. Their new album, Monticello, on Desert Night Music, was recorded in Monticello, New Mexico, a canyon area perhaps best known for its lavender fields and balsamic vinegar industry. On this album, the group combines peaceful, folk-sounding tunes with solid instrumentation to create a unique sound.
While fans of traditional music and hardcore bluegrassers are likely to perceive this record as lacking the proper components of an album steeped in tradition (namely, an ever-present banjo), Monticello does have the potential to appeal to a wide array of listeners. The thirteen-track collection (which also includes a bonus track entitled Honeymoon From…) lies closer to the easy-listening side of radio, with tinges of folk, bluegrass, and even jazz. The musicianship of band members Steve Smith (mandolin), Chris Sanders (guitar), and Anne Luna (bass) provides a free-feeling set of all-original material. With songs covering topics ranging from a love of nature (My Walden) to the pain of poverty (Crack in the Sky), while also hitting on the common themes of love and heartbreak, the Hard Road Trio shows that they are not just a standard, everyday band.
The lyrics on this album are thoughtful and well-written, with the melodies reflecting the mood of each song. Crack in the Sky tells the story of a family who is forced to move around frequently, living in their car from time to time, while Family Secrets reminds the listener that “secrets are heavy on the heart.” Both of these songs feature Sanders’ melancholy lead vocals. Honeymoon From…, the album’s bonus track, is a fun tune in which a couple celebrating their fiftieth anniversary reminisces on the humorous details of their honeymoon. The song has a great bouncy, western swing feel anchored by Luna’s strong bass playing. Several guest musicians are also featured throughout the album, helping bringing a bit of a bluegrass flair to several songs. These musicians include Nate Lee (fiddle), Michael Witcher (dobro), and Bill Evans (banjo).
The Hard Road Trio is obviously an accomplished group of musicians, with its members having taught at such musical camps and workshops as Camp Bluegrass, Hill Country Acoustic Music Camp, and Zoukfest. The band members are even available for private workshops in such areas as harmony, mandolin, guitar, bass, and songwriting. In the past several years, they have traveled across the US performing their distinctive style of music at many different festivals and venues, including Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and the Black Hills Bluegrass Festival.
For more information on the Hard Road Trio, including tour dates and workshop news, visit their website at www.hardroadtrio.com.