nashville's newest bluegrass ambassadors
There is a lot of discussion within the bluegrass community about what, exactly, bluegrass is. How close do we hold our traditions, our themes, even the lineups that we canonize, versus how much breath do we give them to grow and change. It is, to be frank, a little exhausting.
So the nominal album of the East Nash Grass comes as a refreshing break from the hand-wringing -- a balance of undeniably hard-driving bluegrass alongside surprisingly introspective songwriting and earnest narration. Featuring a who’s-who of Nashville’s hottest young pickers, the band was first founded as a part-time pickup gig band in 2017 before transforming into a more serious project just prior to the first closures of COVID in 2020. Since then, the band has been honing their voice -- writing original songs collaboratively and as individuals, breathing fresh life into well-worn standards, and playing gigs together however and whenever they safely can.
That voice shines through on this wholly self-produced project -- defined by the playful brassy flare of banjo riffs and dobro slides balanced against a warm and stable low-end. Notable on the album is the band's tender take on the themes commonly found in bluegrass, largely avoiding the machismo that dominates so much of the traditional sound. Aided by the presence of warmer baritone vocals (as opposed to the strained high tenors so reified by the genre), the East Nash Grass has settled into a sound that feels grounded but not weighed down, and virtuosic without being flashy.
If you are a lover of traditional bluegrass, then it goes without saying that you will enjoy the works produced by this band. This band lives and breathes sparkling instrumental solos and driving rhythms; you would be hard-pressed to find a group of musicians with as much deep bluegrass cred as these pickers. Hell, they even threw in a murder ballad for good measure.
But if you were potentially feeling a little burned out on bluegrass and were drifting away from the genre in this past year without jams and live shows, then let this album carry you back into the fold. The joy and passion these musicians feel towards the genre is infused in every note they play and every word they sing. It will infuse you too, if you let it.
-Kara Kundert, February 2021