Something Sour, Something Sweet — Grain Thief’s first release in three years — is a jolly, joyful, and energized set of songs and tunes that spotlights the bands proverbial polish as an old time string band of the first order. Eight of the ten tunes are lively instrumentals, flush with a rousing revelry that finds root in the old English and Irish folk music that spawned the now traditional sounds of Appalachia at its very beginnings.
Having performed in all parts of the country — from festival stages to more intimate environs — the band’s virtuosic proficiency is certainly no accident. The Boston-based band — Patrick Mulroy (guitars, vocals), Zach Meyer (mandolin, vocals), Michael Harmon (bass, vocals), Tom Farrell (resonator guitar), and Alex Barstow (fiddle) — are a tight-knit outfit, fully capable of ringing out abject jubilation at every turn. Indeed, songs such as Sarah Armstrong’s Paddy on the Turnpike, Grub Springs, Katy Did, and Farewell to Trion recall the jaunty fiddle tunes shared by any number of classic Celtic ensembles. That’s not to say that Grain Thief aren’t wholly invested in bluegrass; as past albums have proven, grassicana is at the root of every endeavor. This time, however, they explore the core roots of their traditional template, and emerge with songs that revel in those origins while also maintaining a distinct sense of soaring spontaneity.
That even holds true for Sorry You’re Sick, a song that breaks the thread of instrumental outlays with a scratchy vocal and a title that might otherwise suggest a downcast disposition. Yet here too, that revelry remains entrenched and the enthusiasm never wanes.
The sharpest departure from the album overall comes via the closing track, The Auld Triangle, a loosely construed a cappella offering that sounds like it was literally recorded on the spot. Regardless, the harmonies are spot-on, making them sound like a seminal old school quartet of a Gospel variety.
It’s hard not to be impressed by Grain School’s obvious dexterity. Indeed, Something Sour, Something Sweet fuels that prospect to the fullest degree.