This review is a contribution from Ivor Trueman.
Italy’s Ruben & Matt and The Truffle Valley Boys, play 1950’s style bluegrass, and they pretty much replicate the original bluegrass ‘sound’ and ‘look’ perfectly.
On stage they perform in hats and ties, sharply dressed in baggy trousers and moving in, out and around the microphone, in a well practiced ‘allegretto’ dance. Matteo Ringressi’s mandolin cuts the air like a knife – loud aggressive tremelo and visceral down-stokes; Germano Ciavone, with his ’50s Gibson bow-tie archtop, weaves in and out, raising the banjo to the mic as it crackles with energy; Denny Rocchio glides in with a few tasteful “Uncle Josh” style licks on the dobro… and so the ritual goes on. Meanwhile Emanuelle Valente keeps the beat going with his Howard Watts’ walking bass runs and Ruben Minuto (playing a right hand stung guitar, left handed!) does a large chunk of the vocal and MC work.
Searching for the gems of tradional raw authentic bluegrass, usually requires a lot of rooting around, sifting through album after album to find the gems with that ‘high lonesome’ sound. So the band’s name, which refers to the highly prized ‘truffle’ funghi so favored in haute cuisine (and which grows in the Isernia region of Italy, where some of the band come from), is kind of apt. Most of the 16 tracks on their debut disc are versions of relatively obscure songs by the likes of Buzz Busby, Larry Richardson, Al Jones & Frank Necessary, Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Vern & Ray, Jimmie Williams & Red Ellis, Hylo Brown & Fred Murphy and the Blue River Boys. Even the version of Don Reno & Red Smiley’s The Lord’s Last Supper takes after the obscure version they cut for Rimrock rather than the more well known version on King.
The album kicks off with a 40 second ‘Theme’ recalling an era when bands would routinely open and close perfomances or radio shows with a short blast of a signature tune, before launching into a faithful plaintive rendition of Larry Richardson & Happy Smith’s Nashville Jail.
Vocally the band do a remarkable job of harmonizing, and without any hint of an Italian accent, giving nuanced performances on several cuts including Vern & Ray’s The Touch Of God’s Hand, the Louvin’s Shake Hands With Mother and The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers’ Will I Meet Mother In Heaven, Elsewhere they remind me of The Church Brothers (Vern & Ray’s Cabin On A Mountain / Buzz Buzby’s caustic I Don’t Mind). Ruben is a big fan of Lester Flatt, and provides splendid ‘crooner’ style vocals to Al Jones’ Teardrops Mixed With Rain, Hylo Brown’s Lost To A Stranger & Flatt & Scruggs’ He Took Your Place.
The album was recorded in two days with a 2 mic set-up, and would not sound out of place on one of the Rounder Early Days Of Bluegrass LP series, or the JSP Bluegrass- Early Cuts / Authentic Rare Bluegrass CD box sets.
True, there is the occasional off-note, and the instrumental performance is deliberately (authentically) restrained compared to modern standards, but the enthusiasm and panache of the performances, on tracks like The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers’ No Curb Service or the wonderful Murphy Brothers’ You’ll Always Be My Blue Eyed Darling will put a grin on your face.
Some will, no doubt, dismiss the band as musical thowbacks, but I’d argue that there’s always going to be a place for bands like The Johnson Mountain Boys & The Earls Of Leicester. After all, if you’re new to bluegrass, band like The Truffle Valley Boys will give you the closest experience you’ll get to witnessing the first bluegrass generation, and if we forget the roots, well… that ain’t no part of nuthin’.
The guys tell the story of how they met and formed Ruben & Matt and The Truffle Valley Boys in this 13 minute mini-documentary, in Italian with English sub-titles. It also includes several performances from the band.