Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Prescription Bluegrass Review - Unspoken Tradition - SIMPLE LITTLE TOWN!

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS IMAGEI received a CD recently and the title, Simple Little Town, caught my attention. 

Growing up in a small town myself, one where everyone knows each other and multiple generations still sit together in church, I was curious to get this new group’s take on small town life.  After the first track, Unspoken Tradition had my attention. 

Halfway through the project, and I knew the group could write timely lyrics and were solid musicians.  By the end of the CD, I knew this group was serious about Bluegrass and had a sound all their own.

Unspoken Tradition began taking form when founding members Audie McGinnis (guitar/vocals), Lee Shuford (dobro/vocals), and Zane McGinnis (banjo) came together at a picking party in Cherryville, North Carolina.  In 2012, the current line-up took shape with the additions of Matt Warren (upright bass/vocals), Ty Gilpin (mandolin/vocals), and Tim Gardner (fiddle/vocals).  

Simply put, Unspoken Tradition is refreshing.  Simple Little Town contains seven original tunes that speak to listeners about living in a place where people speak to one another, watching your child grow and go out on their own, working until your hands bleed, and a timely political song.  Unspoken Tradition has the motto of “working class Bluegrass” and that is exactly what Unspoken Tradition delivers with their first project, songs that reflect upon our everyday life.

Without question, the song that I enjoy the most is Time Marches On, written by band member Lee Shuford.  This song chronicles a couple and their journey to become a family.  During the song, I found myself lost in lyrics that reminded me of rocking my son as an infant, standing on the porch as he left for prom, and dreaming about the future and the man he is becoming.  No matter how many times I listen to this song, and it has been a lot, the ending still brings chills.

When I first looked over the list of songs on the CD, I was sure that Stickshifts and Safetybelts was going to be a hot instrumental.  To my surprise, it is not an instrumental but rather a song written by the alternative rock band CAKE.  Unspoken Tradition has put a Bluegrass spin on this song and, in my opinion, made it better than the original.  Stickshifts and Safetybelts is a fun 2:52 minutes of remembering when having a bench seat meant sliding over and sitting right next to your sweetheart.

Blood and Bone, written by band member Audie McGinnis, gives a chilling glimpse into the mind of a father that is out in the field before dawn, putting his blood into the ground in order to feed his family.  Blood and Bone is one of those songs that come to life thanks to McGinis’ skillfully written lyrics.

These days, one does not have to look very far to find people discussing the state of America.  Mr. President, also penned by McGinnis, is a fast-passed number that gives a voice to the everyday person.  McGinnis takes aim at Wall Street and those capitalizing off the sweat of the blue-collar worker  and demands to know who will help the one that feeds this nation.  There is no doubt that Mr. President will hit home with many listeners. Additionally, this song gives Unspoken Tradition the opportunity to display their musical talents and, trust me, these boys can pick.  

There were a few occurrences, mainly on the first or second listen, when it was difficult to understand the singer’s enunciation, which is not an issue unique to Unspoken Tradition.  Many singers have accents, or different phrasing, according to where they live (my Grandmother tells me I pronounce picture and pitcher the same so she never knows if I want to hang something on the wall or get something to drink).  Singers have forgotten the importance of emphasizing letters such as “t”, “d”, or “m” and the difference those letters make.  

Unspoken Tradition’s website says, “We make sure that our music honors its creators.  We make sure it grows within tradition by adding our original approach.”  With seven original songs, two reworked cover tunes, and a Carter Stanley classic, Unspoken Tradition has stayed true to their goal.  Simple Little Town is an impressive first project and would be a great addition for any Bluegrass library. 

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