Most artists who make the leap from another genre to bluegrass come from country, old time, or perhaps Christian/Gospel music. It’s not often you hear of a bluegrass band that started out in hip-hop, but for Australian group Mustered Courage, that’s exactly what cofounders Nick Keeling and Julian Abrahams did. One might expect the group to go the route of many current mainstream country artists, mixing a rapper’s beats with hints of banjos and fiddles, but Mustered Courage has chosen to present their bluegrass in a pure, though progressive, format.
On their second album, Powerlines, the group moves between upbeat toe-tappers, melodic tunes that muse upon various aspects of life, and fast-paced, banjo-fueled numbers. The banjo, courtesy of Keeling (who also serves as the group’s lead vocalist) is what really steers the album, and Keeling proves he is just as comfortable with the traditional style as he is more modern sounds. The twelve songs here are almost all originals, with Abrahams writing or co-writing eight tunes and the other band members also making contributions.
The album opens with a cheerful piece, the love song Standin’ By Your Side. This tale of a musician who leaves the one he loves for life on the road, but eventually returns because “No one’s perfect… but the closest thing I’ve found to it is you” is bouncy and sweet. My Hometown is another song about the need to come home. This well-written number, set to a folk-pop sound, almost perfectly captures the feeling of wanting to leave, but not feeling quite right anywhere else. The lyrics of Cruel Alibis, a break-up song with a John Mayer sound (if John Mayer incorporated banjo halfway through his songs), also stand out.
The band finds a harsher sound on a few numbers, such as Behind the Bullet, a dark song about the knowledge that you’re into something bad just a little too far, and the angry, bitter Go to Hell. However, the lighter numbers (in sound, not necessarily in subject matter) are much more enjoyable, as are the several songs with a traditional bent, such as Still Shining, a foot-stomping moonshine song complete with furious harmonica playing, and the instrumental Allegheny, a well-done banjo tune from Keeling.
Mustered Courage walks the line between bluegrass and the mainstream style of folk music that’s quite popular today, but they do it well. Keeling, Abrahams (guitar and vocals), Joshua Bridges (bass and vocals), and Paddy Montgomery (mandolin), along with guests Pete Fidler (dobro), Kat Mear (fiddle), Christi Hodgkins (harmonica), and Yen Nguyen (bass vocals), may not hail from a country that’s known for its bluegrass music, but they provide a nice mix of material that fans of progressive bluegrass should enjoy.
For more information on Mustered Courage, visit their website at www.musteredcourage.com. Their new album is available from various online music retailers.