The Hay Brigade

The acoustic music scene in Boston has brought forth a number of exciting young groups this past few year. Crooked Still set the bar high with their recordings, and others like Joy Kills Sorrow, Broken Blossoms, Della Mae and The Boston Boys have emerged in their wake.

Much of this has to do with Boston being such a center for higher education, music and otherwise, and the area attracts creative young people like bees to honey. Sarah Jarosz, Sierra Hull and Alex Hargreaves are all currently studying music in Beantown, as had Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi of Infamous Stringdusters before them.

Well, it’s time to add one more name to the Boston new acoustic music mix. The Hay Brigade is a quartet whose self-titled digital album is now available. They have an eclectic, adventurous sound drawing influences from bluegrass, Celtic, gypsy and other instrumental folk traditions. Duncan Wickel, Dan Gurney, Forrest O’Connor and Nicky Schwartz recorded this project in 2008, packed into a tiny room on the Harvard campus with a college roomate engineering. The friends went their own ways after graduations, but consistent requests for this music from the underground of family and friends have convinced them that it should be released.

Hay Brigade possesses a stunning level of virtuosity and a fine sense of the appropriate mix of improvisation and melody when it comes to folk-derived music. Wickel is on fiddle, Gurney on accordion, O’Connor on mandolin and Schwartz on bass. They tackle several of their own compositions plus tunes from Mark O’Connor, Steve Kuhn, Mark Schatz, Guy Viseur and Béla Fleck.

The music is varied and wonderfully arranged for this unique setting. Here’s just a taste on Viseur’s Flambée Montalbanaise and the fiddle tune Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom.

Flambée Montalbanaise: []

Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom: []

Dan Gurney provided a little background on the group…

“We all met in Boston while Forrest and I were at Harvard (he graduated ’10, myself in ’09) and Duncan was at Berklee, and Nicky at BU. Boston is definitely a great scene right now and Berklee seems to be at the heart of it. I’m amazed at how many bands are being created, month in and month out. Essentially it’s a loose group of people playing and hanging out together, which is a good environment for creating interesting things.

Personally while I was an undergrad I spent most of my time at Harvard and played Irish music sessions on the weekends, but I know Duncan is highly involved in the Berklee scene. Nicky actually has an interesting background as well – he’s primarily a classical bassist and he recently won the Stulberg International String Competition. So for all of us, the Hay Brigade is a fun experiment to see what happens when we make music with no pre-conceived notions.”

You can listen to the whole album on the Hay Brigade web site, where they hope you will enjoy it enough to purchase a copy for download. Great stuff!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.