The New North String Band will release their self-titled debut album “NNSB” on May 30th, 2009. 4 tracks from this upcoming album can be heard online…
In the words of a veteran bluegrass promoter from Virginia…
You might wonder what Eau Claire, Wisconsin has that would be the envy of Nashville, Tennessee. After all, Music City has, in the lyrics by John Sebastian, “thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers” and no shortage of young, eager talent. What Nashville doesn’t have is the New North String Band. With the release of their self-titled first CD, the NNSB has shown that even cities in Wisconsin can produce music that is as finger pickin’ good as any coming from below the Mason-Dixon line.
The group formed a year ago at the annual Minnesota Homegrown Kickoff Festival in Richmond, MN and their high score at the Harvest Jamboree Festival Band Contest in November of 2008 earned them audiences throughout the region. They have been barnstorming ever since and now have a first rate CD to show for it.
Most bluegrass fans expect to hear a nod to the past, e.g. a Bill Monroe fiddle tune or a Stanley Brothers mournful lament, by which they can assess the credibility of a band that claims to play bluegrass. On this the New North String Band does not disappoint. There are 10 original tunes and only two traditional numbers included on the disc (one of which is Monroe’s gospel gem “Wicked Path of Sin”) When talent like this can create original, straight ahead, hot pickin’ versions of the best of the genre, why dwell on the past?
Seven of the tracks come from the pen of mandolinist and lead singer Jake Henry, the band’s Eau Claire native. With the opening track, “Bills” (a treatise on the trials and tribulations of life in the working man’s world) and throughout the recording, Jake’s talent for crafting songs of hard livin’, hard drinkin’, love, longing and loss never fades. Jake even wrote original lyrics to the classic fiddle tune “Billy In The Lowground”. It takes courage to adopt an old standard covered by the likes of Doc Watson and Mark O’Connor and put your own words to it. Jake’s tale of friendship and fate for two Civil War
rebel soldiers evokes the echo of bugle and drum and one can almost smell the dogwood flowers. I asked Jake where he got the idea to put words to this old tune and he explained, “I heard the instrumental on a Kentucky Colonel’s recording and really liked the melody – enough to want to make a song of it.”
Good thinking Jake. This is a triumph.
Ryan Kimm from Mankato, MN plays resophonic guitar, sings lead and harmony and contributes two original tunes. Ryan’s vocal style differs nicely from Jake’s when the band needs that high, lonesome and edgy sound Ryan steps to the mic and delivers. His songs, “Waitin’ On You” and “Save ‘Em Up” (both recorded in Monroe’s vocal key of Bb) have a traditional sound and lyrical quality reminiscent of the great Stanley Brothers. This was just natural, according to Ryan. ” I’ve been getting into the old style stuff just recently. It’s not like I really studied the Stanley’s,” he explained. “But I’m really just a country boy, you know, I grew up in a small town so it just came easy I guess.” Ryan played guitar as a teenager and honed his dobro chops when he bought one in 2007. Since then he has developed a solid melodic style that knows when to bark out a strong solo or slide into a sweet fill behind the vocalist.
The other NNSB original, “Up Above The Timberline”, comes from banjo player and baritone singer Mike Hedding of Minneapolis, MN. It is a fine showcasing instrumental, a chance for NNSB to display their skills. Who else but a group of young trailblazers would record a banjo tune in the key of Eb? “Well, Bill Keith did it and I liked the idea,” said Mike. “It started as an exercise and the melody came from that.”
Trent Cuthbert of Madison, WI plays guitar and doubles on baritone vocals, Trent’s tasty solos and intro and fill work anchor the group and expertly play off the rock solid framework of Steve Clay’s driving bass fiddle. Steve confidently moves from the traditional support of the bass to the haunting bowed bass take on ” Nine Miles Lonesome.” Trent moves deftly from fancy
footwork solo on “Bills” to the sparse, melody bound groove of “Nine Miles Lonesome”. It takes a mature, confident picker to know when “less is more” and listening to Trent play confirms the groups credibility from the very first track.
The New North String Band proves it can put one foot outside the box to the very edge of coolness while the other foot remains firmly grounded in th traditional groove of bluegrass music. The NNSB is rising fast, and if this first CD is any indication, time is running out for folks to listen and clai “I heard them when.”
Minnesota Bluegrass & Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA)
Harvest Jamboree Director