Coming on the heels of last year’s excellent Rise & Fly, The Barefoot Movement’s aptly titled Pressing Onward sums up the dynamic and drive consistently demonstrated by this effusive young combo who merge bluegrass and old time music with contemporary songwriting. Now pared down to a three-piece, consisting of Noah Wall on fiddle, banjo, and lead vocals, Tommy Norris playing mandolin and providing backing vocals, and Katie Blomarz contributing upright bass and sharing lead and background vocals, they evoke the collective enthusiasm of a typical campfire collective. Produced by Chuck Plotkin (the man behind the boards for Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Bob Dylan’s Shot of Love, among the many) and Hank Linderman (best known for his efforts with superstars such as Eagles and Chicago), they’ve managed to accumulate the professional acumen to propel themselves forward, but here again, it’s all vibrance and versatility that dominate these proceedings. Indeed, that youthful enthusiasm isn’t lost in the midst of poise or professionalism.
That enthusiasm never wanes, from the first track to the last, but at the same time, their reverence for the genre never falters either. The album’s upbeat opener, Back Behind the Wheel, combines a rustic approach with a decidedly spirited sound. The rousing revelry that shines through such songs as Anywhere I Plant My Feet, the homespun hoedown Pressing Onward, a decidedly determined Baby Love, and the jig-like Touch the Sky, keep that jubilation steadfastly intact. Likewise, a riveting and remarkable cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic, Fire, finds Wall’s frenetic fiddle playing subbing for the signature guitar riff, and thereby ensures the exhilaration remains intact.
That said, a sensual and sedate cover of the classic, It Won’t Matter Anymore, finds a fit with any earlier expectations and blends nicely with the mellow mood established by Someday, Easy, and Find the Way Back.
Still, it’s that exuberance — and Wall’s fiddle playing in particular — that dominates the proceedings overall, creating a formidable impression and a sense that The Barefoot Movement are in fact proceeding purposely, while ensuring a solid reputation in the process.
Pressing Onward makes it clear they’re well worth watching along the way.