This is part jazz – think big-band swing and the Andrews Sisters – part Patsy Cline – even without a cover of I Fall to Pieces — and part bluegrass. Swing-grass, perhaps?
The result is a solid overall effort – catchy melodies, close harmonies and some first-rate picking by Michael Sassano on mandolin and Jamie Doris on upright bass, with guest Rob Hecht expertly sawing away on the five-string fiddle.
Nine of the 12 cuts are written by band members. Favorites are Yesterday’s Eyes, by lead singer and banjo picker Joan Harrison and a spectacular cover of Karla Bonoff’s Home. A pair of instrumentals – Sassano’s Twister and flat-picking guitarist Betsy Rome’s Turnpike Reel — also are keepers.
Doris’ jazz roots show throughout the album, from terrific walking lines that propel the band to some just-right bowed flourishes, with a couple of tasteful breaks thrown in for good measure. Harrison and Rome are no slouches in the picking department, either.
The core of the band has been together for a number of years and it shows, especially in the Harrison and Rome harmonies. Each song is skillfully rendered, expertly produced and, individually, easy on the ears.
But when those songs are played in one sitting, Too Blue might be just a bit too smooth. After the first few times through Trouble With the Grey, I found myself longing for a little less vocal polish and a little more edge and emotion. It’s not a bad thing so much as too much of a good thing.
Still, this record has a lot going for it and should help the band expand its reach beyond the festival circuit in New York and southern New England.