Bluegrass music has often celebrated the life of the working man and the small town he lives in. North Carolina’s Unspoken Tradition, a new group based out of Asheville and Cherryville, embodies that theme in their debut release, Simple Little Town. The group calls their music “Working Class Bluegrass,” and with songs that tell of coal mining, farming, and friendly neighbors, they capture that feeling.
The music here is, in general, on the traditional side of things, with the vocals and a few tunes leaning more towards modern country. The opening number, which is also the title track, is a fresh-sounding, upbeat song about a man who wants to trade his mundane city life for a place where “you can walk the street and everyone you meet will smile and say hello.” It was written by dobro player Lee Shuford, who also sings lead. Following it is Mr. President, which presents another side of rural life. Written by the band’s guitarist and main lead vocalist, Audie McGinnis, this angry song narrated by a struggling farmer voices opinions likely felt by many Americans and is one of the album’s more driving songs.
Blood and Bone also shares a farmer’s story, though seemingly a bit more historic. It’s easily the darkest song on the album, with a lonesome fiddle opening and images of pain and suffering throughout. McGinnis, who again wrote the song and sings lead, ends the number with a warning to farmers’ sons who never understood their fathers’ pain: “one day when you’re old enough you’ll come to understand what it means to work until your blood is in the land.”
McGinnis also wrote the catchy, familiar-sounding Mine Shaft Blues. His lead vocals here are strong and a bit gritty as he sings about the life of a hard-working coal miner. Rebel’s Shame has a bit different sound, with an interesting mandolin opening before the band comes in full force. This song, written by Shuford, tells of a Civil War soldier who deserted a battle when he just couldn’t take it anymore. This is a neat twist on the usual war or battle song, and it closes the album with an extended instrumental break.
Traditional bluegrass fans should enjoy the group’s cover of the Stanley Brothers’ I’m Lost, I’ll Never Find the Way. Mandolin player Ty Gilpin offers his take on the lead vocals, and the band sticks fairly close to the Stanley Brothers’ sound, although it seems like they lean less heavily on the fiddle than Carter and Ralph did. Another cover on the album comes from just a little stranger source – the alt-rock band Cake. The original version of Stickshifts and Safetybelts has a swingy groove which actually translates fairly well to bluegrass, although the phrasing on Unspoken Tradition’s version seems a little choppy.
While still a new group, Unspoken Tradition sounds polished, with the musicians obviously skilled on their instruments. McGinnis (guitar), Shuford (dobro), and Gilpin (mandolin) are joined by Matt Warren (bass), Tim Gardner (fiddle), and Zane McGinnis (banjo). Their modern traditional music draws easy comparisons to another fairly new band, Breaking Grass, and fans of that group (as well as other similar up-and-coming groups) should enjoy Simple Little Town.
For more information on Unspoken Tradition, visit their website at www.unspokentradition.com. Their new album was independently released, and can be purchased from iTunes and CDBaby.