Sunday, August 18, 2013

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews - Snyder Family Band BUILDING BRIDGES

Image635124418128641193Laine and Bud Snyder are probably the proudest parents in Bluegrass and acoustic music today. Their two oldest children, Samantha, 14, and Zeb, 18, are two musical prodigies currently setting the festivals, concert halls and airwaves on fire with their talents. Their youngest son, Owen, at seven years old, already has an established repertoire of audience favorites, too.

Samantha and Zeb are serious instrumentalists, vocalists and song writers, and Owen is “Mr. Personality” in the band. Their live shows are crowd pleasing excursions into rousing instrumentals, three part gospel harmony, with Mom, Laine, adding her vocals to their faith based inspirational songs, and Dad, Bud, holding it all together with his upright bass playing.

Two years ago, The Snyder’s released their CD, “STAGES,” and it was very, very good, but….. their newest CD, “BUILDING BRIDGES,” is head and shoulders above where they were then. Samantha and Zeb have taken off like bottle rockets in the past two years! The twelve songs on this new CD are all originals, and there isn’t a dud in the bunch. Samantha has written five, and Zeb has written five. Together they have written a gospel number, “Open Up This Heart Of Mine”. Zeb, Terry Foust and Dicky Minor wrote the twelfth song, entitled “Old Timer.”

I find it fascinating and exciting to see them grow as much as they have in such a short time, and their sense of adventure in the songs they write and the songs they choose to cover is eclectic and ever expanding.

Image635124449156975912On “STAGES,” they did the rocker “They Call Me The Breeze,” and with the recent passing of J.J. Cale just weeks ago at this writing, I can’t help but feel that if he had had the chance to hear their version of his song, John would have loved it. In their live shows, Zeb also does a finger style version of Doc Watson’s playing style on Doc’s “Deep River Blues,” and does a superb job of emulating his hero.

As further proof of their awakening notoriety, nine time IBMA Mandolinist of the Year, Adam Steffey just made use of their talents on his new solo CD “New Primitive”. Zeb played all the guitar tracks along side this legendary musician. Samantha played fiddle on two tracks and sings a lovely song entitled “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies”.

The opportunities these young people are being offered wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have the level headed character to handle the pressure and deliver when in the company of the finest pickers to be found. In my humble opinion, Laine and Bud Snyder have every reason to be proud! Success doesn’t come without work, it is never guaranteed and it always has to be earned. Their kids are earning all the acclaim they are receiving.

“BUILDING BRIDGES” starts off with a bang! Samantha has written an instrumental called “Top Hat,” and it will grab your attention immediately. Mark O’Connor is her favorite fiddle player, and it was written as a tribute to him. He should be honored, because the song is a good one, and wouldn’t it be great to hear them do it together? I’m betting the chances are pretty good that he’d be up for that in a heartbeat.

Samantha is the proud owner of a vintage circa 1700’s violin, and it sounds beautiful. A warm, wonderful tone and sustain are evident the minute you hear it. She also uses it on her other instrumental composition, “Trim Castle.” The song starts off with a solo section that has a dissonant Irish lilt to it, which is intentional, and very affectively likable. It seems Samantha took a liking to Irish music in her formal training, and this song is the result. It amazes me how these young players can adapt and excel at so many different feels, styles and influences.

Samantha’s other three originals are all gospel, and for such a young lady, she writes with a very passionate zest for her faith. Her lyrics are vivid and her story lines are clear and pointedly direct. She conveys a sense of awe and inspiration with a willingness to share her feelings.

“Listen To His Word,” has Mom, Laine, again singing the third part with Samantha and Zeb and their harmony soars. “Shadowy World” tells the story of a young man, who after going astray, finds his place is with his family and his faith.

“Kneel Down and Pray” is my favorite. It is a simple, straight forward and direct three quarter time “sing along song” and it’s message of hope eternal rings clear as a bell. Again Mom adds her vocal to the old time harmony and adds body and depth to the arrangement. Samantha writes like an “old soul”.

Zeb has written four instrumentals that are each as unique and different as can be. On “Reed’s Overture,” Zeb starts out with a slow classical guitar solo that morphs into a tribute to Jerry Reed’s nylon string dexterity. The first call Nashville guitar session guys need to look out and pay attention to what Zeb is doing on this one.

Zeb proves he can cover another style with “Blue Bottle Blues”. His slide guitar style is very one of a kind and he has written a tune that shows off his technique beautifully. His tone and intonation are super fine! A lot of slide players can be sloppy and lazy and they blame it on the old guys they learned it from who told them “that’s the way its s‘posed to be played kid.”

Sloppy and lazy doesn’t cut it in my book, and Zeb is on the right track with his style of playing. “Folkston,” and “Blockade Runner” are the last two and both are just plain HOT! Zeb throws every note on his guitars into these songs. Samantha adds her own magic to each instrumental and together they make it clear that they can play with the best pickers anywhere!

The very first song Zeb sings on this CD is called “Old Timer,” and it was written by Zeb with Terry Foust and Dicky Minor. It is definitely the most interesting tune they recorded! Zeb not only sings the lead vocal, he plays guitar, banjo, mandolin AND dobro! Every solo he takes on this song is right on the money and solidly played. He has already proved his aptitude for guitar, but look out folks, he can cover any open spot in a bluegrass band! His feel for each instrument is remarkable and he nails this song right to the wall with his pickin’. Samantha jumps in with old 1700 and matches Zeb lick for lick and also adds a perfect harmony vocal. This is the hottest song on the CD, and it is 2:50 of perfection.

The other song that Zeb sings on is his self-penned “Smoky Mountain Railway.” Simply put, this is a great tune with a lot of commercial viability. Zeb plays some of his hottest licks on this one and Samantha (this time playing her Jimmie Edmonds fiddle) pushes him with HER hottest licks, too! Fine song-writing and musicianship par excellance.

Now for the hard part….. I literally wore out their first CD, I’ve watched them a lot on YouTube and lived with this CD for the last three weeks, and…… there’s a hole in their presentation that needs attention. Mom and Dad seem to be doing all they can to let their kids “shine” on their own. They don’t appear to be “stage parents” at all, which is a good thing. Samantha and Zeb seem to be taking the reins with their music and running with it admirably. Their only weak spot, is with their vocals….. it doesn’t sound like they are spending enough time working on their vocal techniques.

On both the songs Zeb sings, he sings very well, but the songs should have been done a whole step higher. His voice is still maturing and the strength isn’t there yet to hit those low notes with the power the song needs. I’ve heard YouTube videos where his voice is strong, powerful and much better than what I’m hearing on this CD, and I think it all has to do with key choice.

The best key for the singer should always be the key the song is done in. I guarantee that Alison Krauss picks the best key for her voice and the band works around that fact the best they can instrumentally. The emotion that Zeb and Samantha put into each solo they play should also be put into every word they sing. There is a marked difference in the way they sing alone and the way they sing with their Mother. When singing with her, they sing with more confidence. They are still kids, so their real vocal precision and power is still a ways off, but, they both need to be working on their vocal talents NOW.

On “Old Timer,” their vocals are more appealing than on any other song on the entire CD. Part of this is because Samantha is adding a very good harmony vocal. Why didn’t she add a harmony on “Smoky Mountain Railway?” The song needed it, it would have helped Zeb’s vocal presentation and the CD would have been better for it. If they can add more harmony vocals to their music, their “sound” will be that much more singular and unique for it.

Samantha and Zeb have instrumental prowess way beyond their years, they are personable and their stage presence is a joy to watch. They enjoy what they do and it shows on their smiling faces, but the time will come when they will have to compete with the best the adult world has to offer. EVERY talent and asset they have will need to be honed, primed and focused. Their vocals will become more important with every recording.

Zeb and Samantha have three more secret weapons that will help their march to success. Mountain Roads Recordings owner, Karl Cooler, is obviously a huge fan. His expertise in putting this CD packaging together is second to none. There are eight sides of lyrics, pictures and graphics that hold the CD itself, and it’s first class all the way! Mr. Kooler has spared no expense to make this presentation beautiful. He also has the business acumen to get this finished product into the right hands.

Like their last CD, “Building Bridges” was recorded at Eastwood Recording Studio, Cana, Virginia. I can’t say enough good things about Wesley Easter! His technical wizardry is amazing, and he has EARS that catch every nuance and gets the best possible sound recorded. His talents in making The Snyder Family Band sound wonderful is integral to their success. I also think he is a perfect studio “Guru” for these young people to learn the art of recording from. I’ll bet they learn more than they realize from their “ace in the hole”. A lot of bluegrass, acoustic and roots music artists depend on Wesley to be the recording conduit between their musical identities and their final product, and the reason why is because he is a “Master” at what he does.

The strength that hold this whole enterprise together is Bud Snyder….. He keeps everything rooted firmly on the ground, and his playing has also become more and more expressive with time. No matter which direction the kids take, he firmly guides their journey. He may not be in the spotlight as much, but he’s every bit as talented as Samantha and Zeb are. He’s definitely the rock they all lean on.

W. J. Hallock CD Review Submission

I have thoroughly enjoyed this CD, and I know you will, too. YEP…. Add this one to your collection and be patient waiting for their next one!

Snyder Family BandSnyder Family Photo courtesy of Mountain Roads Recordings.

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