Listen Up: Wednesday, April 19, 2006
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Two-High String Band

Moonshine Boogie (Blue Corn Music)

By Steve Steward

It’s 2006. By now, the mainstream mags should almost be over the whole post-punk hipster-disco thing, and the kids should be tired of backwards-hair pop-hardcore bands. The fads are dying, all except for Americana, which might mean it’s not a fad at all. Sure, you may lose your O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack under the passenger seat for a coupla years, but whenever you grope through the ancient French fries and yellowed Texaco receipts and pull that bad boy out, you remember just how cool Alison Kraus is. Americana never really goes away, which brings us to Austin’s Two-High String Band.

The “band” is actually three guys who pick mandolins, guitars, and banjos really fast, which might make you think Moonshine Boogie is a bluegrass record. And you’d be sort of right, but the c.d. is a little more complicated than that. Bluegrass is a pretty rigid format, but weaving in and out of the light-speed finger-picking are surprise jazz runs and bluesy grooves on leave from the Delta. It’s roots music, but it bridges the stylistic gap between Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck, firmly planting itself in the 21st century.

Like every rural road worth ambling, the songs here meander a bit. While the music might have come from Appalachia, the lyrics have more in common with James McMurtry than Mother Maybelle. Singer/mandolin player Billy Bright casts a wry eye to a late-night phone call in “Nobody Calls from Vegas,” declaring, “Three o’clock in the morning / Phone’s ringing off the wall / It’s been months since you left / Funny that you called / I know you’re needin’ somethin’, is your money running low? / Nobody calls from Vegas / Just to say hello.”

Bright, with co-vocalists/guitarists Brian Smith and Geoff Union, illuminates the song-stories with golden three-part harmonies, reminding their modern spin where it came from, which is appropriate, since there aren’t any heartbreakers here about coal mines or dirt farmers. Of course, the boys occasionally get lost in mandola-mandolin duels, but for the most part the instrumentals are as evocative as the tracks with words. “Listen to the Rhododendron” (a flower that, apparently, makes a sound that conjures up the image of families traveling by wagon to county fairs) is refulgent with shimmery, brisk mandolin runs and mellow with flat-picked guitar melodies. The sneaky ragtime of “Meat Glaze” is a page reverently cribbed from The Book of Django Reinhardt.

On Moonshine Boogie, the band’s second full-length album, The Two-High String Band proves that bluegrass will be around when Clap Your Hawthorne Heights and Franz Fallout Boy have gone the way of Kajagoogoo. When your roots run as deep as these Austinites, you can afford to stretch your limbs a bit.


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