It’s rare when a new band nails their sound the first time out, so credit Wood Belly with doing exactly that and earning the kudos they deserve as a result. Recorded last October with Grammy-winning producer Sally Van Meter at the helm, Solid Ground is indeed a solid debut for this Colorado-based band. Winning top prize in the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition this past June solidified their standing and helped ensure the fact that Wood Belly have a promising future burning bright before them.
As a band that can boast a newgrass sensibility, Wood Belly draws on several strengths. The group’s dynamic is well represented by Aaron McCloskey’s limber banjo, Chris Weist’s nimble mandolin, Craig Patterson’s able guitar work, the assertive stance Chris Zink takes with dobro, and Taylor Shuck’s solid support on bass. All five members contribute to the seamless vocal harmonies and also participate in the songwriting, which ranges from uptempo tunes such as Solid Ground, Wings, Georgia Wind and some decisive instrumentals, to occasional forlorn ballads like Jamestown and Keep On Lovin’ Me. They possess a remarkable range in their verve and versatility, factors that ought to provide them with contemporary credence and populist appeal.
Like the bands that have helped establish the grassicana template — Hot Rize, Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain, Mountain Heart, and the Seldom Scene — Wood Belly taps tradition but isn’t confined to any particular parameters. Granted, their’s is a down-home sound, but one that’s well suited to Colorado’s higher altitudes and the vast expanse of its western realms. They share a sense of optimism and exhilaration that’s inherent in both their delivery and designs, making every note of Solid Ground as seamless as its title implies. And while they may bear a similarity in stance to others of their ilk — the aforementioned outfits included — the freshness and vitality they bring to bear elevates their standing and assures their status as instant contenders. Whether it’s a scrappy ramble like Skinny Dip or the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer, Colorado Hipster Beard, Wood Belly demonstrate that they’re clearly capable of purveying an extremely amiable approach.
Ultimately, Wood Belly are a welcome addition to today’s bluegrass brigade. Even now, it’s safe to determine that they’re ones to watch.