Album review – Massive Grass’ “Untethered”
By Brian Tucker
Local bluegrass band Massive Grass has an out of the ordinary germination as a band, one that plays a lot around the area. So while it’s not unusual to hear about a band that began in one genre and surged in another, it’s interesting to hear fragments of it play out in their new music.
Members of Massive Grass were involved in rock or metal bands prior, and though it’s not overtly on the surface, aesthetics of those bands show up. Their album Untethered is a lively mix of bluegrass and Americana, songs about frustration (“I Don’t Give a Damn”) and several about working hard (“Bank of Fate,” “Good Ol’ Days”) and living hard “(Jaws of Life,” “Curveball”). The playing is solid and textured and vocals are soulful and lean. With great runs on the banjo (see “Rowboat Song”) the playing is always deliberate, never showy. Untethered sounds and feels like family, through thick and thin.
Playful and vibrant, it’s easy to imagine the songs as hard rock songs, melodies and all, and confirming what Del McCoury told me in an interview years ago about the similarity between the fast fingers of metal players and bluegrass players.
Fast and engaging, the music is consistent, whether it’s the intimacy (and frankness) of “Don’t Give a Damn” or the funky, casual personality of the dark witted “String Yourself Up.”
Keep in mind; this is a strong batch of musicians. Massive Grass is a band with a rural rich sound, combustibility and without fail deliver great harmonies. I’m a huge fan of “3/4 Fix,” a song highlighting this strength. It has a soaring, emotionally charged chorus and a song that could be played as a country or a rock ballad in the 70s, 80s or 90s.
And while “3/4 Fix” is great its really just one shade of a colorful band that can also deliver the back porch family feel of “Good Ol Days” or the rollicking, hard charging atmosphere of “Curveball” which seems to make the most of banjo, three part harmonies and stand-up bass.
Untethered keeps the energy up much of the time but they decide to close out with the stark “Bank of Fate,” a song that recalls the seething tenacity of Hank William’s, Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive.”
A mix of bluegrass and country music, Unthethered is a bluegrass album standing strong in the shadow of tradition, all the while bringing a variety of songs that aim to embrace the genre while adding to it.