Republic of Strings; Always Bold, Even When Not on the Mark

Generation Nation
Compass 7-4427-2
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Originally published in SingOut! 54:4

Newgrass, the blender mix of bluegrass and other genres, has been around for so long that the very term is an oxymoron. But if you think that you’ve heard every permutation possible, reserve judgment until you listen to Generation Nation, the latest collaborative project led by fiddler Darol Anger. It’s a bit like grafting a Grateful Dead concert to a string band. Take a hard listen to “Polska Upstairs” as it’s about as close to a conventional melody as this album gets. If you’re a listener who absolutely needs to hear strong melodies, feel dancey pulses, and hum signature hooks, steer clear of this recording. If, on the other hand, you like music whose loose weaves leave big spaces for jams, innovation, and free form jazz, this is the ticket. Anger doesn’t cover chestnuts; he cracks them open. There is, for instance, Chris Webster channeling Aretha Franklin on “Chain of Fools.” Her vocals are strong, sexy, and reminiscent of Franklin’s 1967 hit single, but Rushad Eggleston’s cello lines and the fiddle meanderings of Anger and Brittany Haas are miles from what Jerry Wexler had in mind. Anger describes “The Seagull” as an “origami,” an apt way of describing the ways in which the instruments fold into each other’s musical space; and the album’s final two tracks, “Rain Dance” and “The Tan Hut,” are so meditative and experimental that I wondered for a moment if Phillip Glass produced the record. I can’t say I enjoyed every track of this record, but I was always intrigued. -- Rob Weir

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