Eastman Strings has been a friend to bluegrass for some time now, and one of its reps, Tim Finch, is a regular presence at World of Bluegrass, MerleFest, the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival and elsewhere.
But Tim doesn’t just sell Eastman mandolins, guitars and other stringed instruments. He plays them with authority. So when it came time to put a band together, it was pretty easy to come up with a name: The Eastman String Band.
The band’s new recording, ‘Neath a Midnight Sky, isn’t bluegrass per se, but there are many elements of the genre woven into the 10 songs, most notably the expert fiddling of Jon Glik, the Tony Rice-style guitar picking of John Miller, and Finch’s solid work on mandolin and banjo. There’s also percussion on nearly every song, sometimes just a snare, sometimes a full kit, but played with restraint. Savanna Finch on rhythm guitar, Stefan Custodi on bass and some powerful guests, including Lincoln Meyers on guitar and Fred Travers on resonator guitar, round out the lineup.
From start to finish, the band is tight, and the arrangements pleasant. If I needed to put a band together for studio work, some of these pickers would be high on my list.
But ‘Neath a Midnight Sky is more than just a showcase for some fine picking. It’s also a vehicle for the songwriting of Savannah Finch, Tim’s wife. She wrote or co-wrote all of the songs with other band members. And she and Tim handle most of the lead vocals.
My go-to tracks include Only Bird Not Singing, Happy Heart You Send and Run Ashore. The first one, about trying to break down the emotional wall to try to reach someone, includes a fabulous line: “The only time you fly is when you dream.” Happy Heart You Send tracks a familiar theme – let’s be more than friends – but in a fresh way melodically. The song swings, especially when Custodi’s bass line and Traver’s resonator lock in. Run Ashore, the lone instrumental, is so powerful that it left me wishing for more. The banjo and drums set the tone, with Glik’s fiddle and a rare turn from Tim Finch on the pedal steel guitar adding just the right amount of flourishes.
Some of the songs, frankly, are a bit too abstract lyrically for my comfort. I want understandable, approachable stories and choruses that are memorable enough to sing along with. There are some of those here, for sure, but a few others leave me scratching my head. Your mileage, of course, may vary, and even when the message isn’t front and center, the songs are approachable.
The Eastman String Band is a smart PR tool for Eastman instruments, and this CD is a enjoyable tour around the edges of bluegrass, a nice soundtrack for a fading summer day on the deck or on the water, where Tim and Savannah Finch can be found when they don’t have Eastman instruments in their hands.
More information can be found at TimAndSavannahFinch.com.