It’s always difficult to know what to expect when you hear that a bluegrass band is made up of people who have no background in bluegrass music. Will the album simply be covers of old classics? Pop music with banjo?
Or, as is the case with the new album from German group Covered Grass, a cheerful-sounding collection of original progressive bluegrass? Although most of the members of Covered Grass did not start performing in the bluegrass style until joining forces as a band in 2006, and tend to stay away from classic bluegrass, they are obviously skilled musicians and provide listeners with a creative, modern sound.
The thirteen songs on Toogaroo are all originals, written by lead vocalist Corina Aurin and banjo player Volker Fisher. In general, the tunes are imaginative, with an interesting mixture of traditional and more progressive instrumentation. The lyrics are at times simple, as in the gentle breakup song Rainy Sunday (“What the heck, I’ll go back to bed, pull the blanket over my head”), but do a nice job of conveying emotions.
Knock at My Window is another piece about lost love, but has an angrier feel, as the singer declares that she has closed her home to the man who caused her so much pain. A Bird Called Love, which is one of the standout tunes here instrumentally, also shares the story of a broken heart, using a little bird as a creative metaphor for love.
A couple of songs reminisce about youth. Granny’s Apron is one of the album’s best tunes. This sweet recollection of the singer’s grandmother, who was never complete without an apron, has a nice groove, reminiscent of a Kenny and Amanda Smith song. Fans of the 1970s TV series The Waltons should enjoy Good Night, John Boy!, a melodic, touching tribute to the show and its characters (complete with a grassy sampling of the show’s theme song near the end of the song). This tune actually caught the ear of several actresses from The Waltons, and the band was invited to perform at a 40th anniversary celebration of the series.
A few other songs let the band use their imaginations. The upbeat title track finds a woman in love creating a happy place called Toogaroo, where “we can hear the sun and taste the moon… pick the stars and drink their juice.” Aurin brings in influences from her jazz background on There’s Life In Outer Space, which laments today’s tech-happy society and urges listeners to experience life outside the Internet. The album closes with The Fiddle, a peaceful-sounding tune that traces the history of an Italian fiddle from the instrument’s point of view.
Aurin (lead vocals and mandolin) and Fisher (banjo, dobro, and vocals) are joined by Felix Eichert (guitar), Joon Laukamp (fiddle, mandolin, and vocals), and Carsten Manz (bass). Although the band hails from Germany, the songs here are done in English. It’s obvious that English isn’t the group’s first language, but the album is still enjoyable and both vocals and music are performed well.
For more information on Covered Grass, visit their website at www.covered-grass.de. The main website is in German, but has an English option, as well. Toogaroo can be downloaded from iTunes and Amazon.