While traditional bluegrass has been on an upswing over the past few years, so have a number of varieties on the edge of the genre which blend bluegrass instrumentation with everything under the sun. The Dirty River Ramblers, a new group from Nebraska, fall into that second category, labeling themselves as “downhome jamgrass.” The brand of bluegrass they offer on their debut album, Ramble On, incorporates a healthy dose of old time, a bit of acoustic country, and even a little smoky jazz.
The ten songs here are originals, with the majority written by fiddle and banjo player Josh Krohn or guitarist Mace Hathaway. The lyrics are vivid and clever, with several numbers particularly standing out. Krohn’s Red Bird Stomp is a fun, upbeat opening track. It’s a nice modern old time song, with quirky lyrics that sound as if they came from the early 1900s. Eliza Mae, written by Hathaway, tells the story of a woman who struggles with her husband’s death during wartime. Krohn’s fiddling adds to the wistful feel.
Take It Easy on My Heart is a mixture of classic country and bluegrass, with Hank Williams-style vocals. The song is a plea from a man who’s been hurt before, and is worried that another heartbreak might be more than he can bear. Hippy Girl, on the other hand, is a laidback, old-time influenced ode to the girl who loves the singer despite his faults. The bouncy melody fits the song well.
Copper Coil Daydream doesn’t sound quite like anything else on the album. It’s an interesting song about moonshine, with a sound that falls somewhere between the Steep Canyon Rangers and Old Crow Medicine Show. It starts out slow and mysterious, then kicks into a quicker, jazzy instrumental interlude.
There are also three instrumentals here. The first, Wally the Hound Dog, is a banjo-led number composed by Krohn that gallops along at a nice pace. Justin Kephart’s mandolin stands out on this tune. Krohn also wrote Armadillo Shuffle, a Sally Goodin-esque fiddle tune that allows him to show off his skills. All four band members are credited as contributors to Carp Skin Boots, an interesting blend of sounds with a somewhat dark feel.
The Dirty River Ramblers’ music would fit in well with numerous bands hailing from the western United States, and fans of that old-time and folk-influenced style should enjoy the songs here. Krohn (fiddle, banjo, guitar, and vocals), Kephart (mandolin and vocals), Hathaway (guitar, harmonica, baritone ukulele, and vocals), and Chris Hunke (bass) are talented musicians and certainly seem to be enjoying themselves.
For more information on the Dirty River Ramblers, visit their website at www.dirtyriverramblers.com. Their album is available from their website, as well as several other online music retailers.