Minnesota’s Sawtooth Brothers aren’t brothers – well, technically. They’re actually two pairs of brothers, Clint and Luke Birtzer and Ethan and Jesse Moravec. They’re also not technically bluegrass. Formerly known as the Sawtooth Bluegrass Band, when their banjo player (an older Birtzer brother) left, they gave themselves a new name to reflect their new sound – a little slicker, with doses of pop, rock, Americana, and more. Their debut album in this configuration, One More Flight, features eleven all-original tracks with a sound that fits well with the progressive grass currently coming out of the western United States.
Most of the songs focus on love in one way or another, typically of the lost variety. Several are excellent examples of acoustic pop. What’s Her Name could have come from an MTV Unplugged session a decade ago; a simple guitar, with a bit of mandolin and fiddle here and there, backs up wistful vocals as the singer regrets letting past loves go. The easygoing melody of I Should Be Going accompanies lyrics about a man who knows he should move on but can’t help holding out for another chance. Summer All the Time has a more positive vibe, with lyrics that share similarities with many current country radio hits. “You’re more of a backwards baseball hat at a cabin on the lake, with your flips flops, tank top on just chilling in the shade,” the singer tells the girl he loves, as he acknowledges that money and fairy tale princes aren’t what she’s looking for.
The band’s bluegrass background shines through on a few songs, as well. County Road X is bouncy and upbeat, with bright fiddle, mandolin, and guitar that mix together well during the instrumental breaks. The title of On Top of the World was inspired by the old standard Sittin’ On Top of the World. It’s dark and bluesy progressive bluegrass, with lyrics that seem like they should be a love song but a sound that makes you wonder if love is what the singer really wants. There’s a nice groove to The River and You, which is another country-influenced song that reminisces about young love and memories of sneaking out down the river to see a girl. This song seems like one that would be enjoyable at a live show, with a fun repeated mandolin/fiddle line and a chorus that just begs for a sing-along.
The album closes on a thoughtful note with One More Flight and Take Me Away. The former laments trying to keep up with life in the city, with a last verse that will ring true with many listeners: “Stack of bills in my dresser drawer, I couldn’t say what I’m doing it for anymore. What I’ve been longing for has taken all of me, I’m finding it hard just to be.” The closing track provides a solution to the previous song’s anxiety and worry, opening with gentle guitar and mandolin and speaking of heading out to the country, clearing your mind and restoring your soul.
With One More Flight, the Sawtooth Brothers prove themselves to be talented musicians who are willing to embrace a number of musical styles across the confines of a single album. The acoustic pop-style songs are very enjoyable (though fans who remember them from their bluegrass days might yearn for their older sound), and they tackle the progressive, bluesy grass numbers with lots of energy. The band will surely appeal to a broad base of listeners, and could easily choose from a number of musical paths to follow.
For more information on the Sawtooth Brothers, visit their website at www.sawtoothbrothers.com. Their new album is available from several online music retailers.