There’s a clear distinction between confidence and cockiness. The former is a reflection of effort, ability and familiarity with a genre. The latter is indicative of the desire simply to grandstand and tout one’s image, often to the detriment of the music.
The Chicago bluegrass band, Cox’s Army — currently consisting of “Cousin Chuck” Cox (guitar, lead vocal), Laird Patten (banjo), Jeff Burke (mandolin, baritone vocal), and Jack Campbell (bass, tenor vocal) — are adept at treading the narrow divide between actual authenticity and contemporary credence. Their latest album, New Richmond Town, demonstrates their unabashed affinity for classic conceits as found in the form of lively harmonies, deft instrumental interplay and lyrics that celebrate all manner of homespun homilies. That’s especially evident on such songs as Big Spoon, Little Spoon, Searching for Home, Outta Town, You Dug That Hole on the Wrong Side, and the title track, offerings that leave no doubts as to their fondness for reflection, nostalgia, sincerity, and sentiment. It’s an affecting combination to be sure, as unpretentious as it is inspired.
Those intents are summed up succinctly on one one track in particular, the road weary ballad, Leather, Wood, and Nails:
“I walk along the wooded path
My eyes upon the cabin door
My feet come back from where they roam
Leather, wood, and nails they take me home.”
In concert, the quartet often shares a single mic, just as many classic bluegrass bands did back in the day. In listening to the new album, that tack is easy to envision. Like its predecessor, Green Eyed Train, it was recorded live sans bells and whistles.
Then again, given Cox’s bluegrass background — raised in Cincinnati, a birthplace of bluegrass following the second World War, he eventually made his way to Kentucky where he connected with a number of bluegrass’ original architects.
His fascination with the form spurred him to develop a sound that gave due reverence to those roots.
Here again, flash and frenzy give way to skill and subtlety, a combination that makes New Richmond Town a desirable destination all its own.