Saturday, March 29, 2014

Prescription Bluegrass Reviews - MIPSO - Dark Holler Pop

PRESCRIPTION BLUEGRASS IMAGE  -  CD REVIEWIf you have never heard of the North Carolina band Mipso, you are most likely not alone. The group formed in 2010 when Jacob Sharp (mandolin), Wood Robinson (double bass), and Joseph Terrell (guitar), came together to create a sound that crosses various music styles.

According to Mipso’s website, the renegade traditionalists are doing their part to take three-part harmony and Appalachian influences to the next level. If you prefer traditional bluegrass groups, Mipso may not be the group for you. However, if you are looking for a different sound or something that, while not a highly complex band by some standards, but rather a fun jam band, Mipso is a group to explore.

"Dark Holler Pop contains several songs that, in my broadcaster's opinion, could crossover to bluegrass radio.  . . .I will undoubtedly find myself listening to Dark Holler Pop again."

Initially, I did not find too much about the group that I would consider traditional or even new acoustic bluegrass, but rather more folk or Americana. Yes, all the instruments were there but Mipso struck me as a polished version of Old Crow Medicine Show. When I first listened to Dark Holler Pop, a collection of 11 original tunes written by the group, I recalled the 2013 IBMA, International Bluegrass Music Association, showcase groups and felt that Mipso could easily hold their own with groups such as Henhouse Prowlers, The Honey Dewdrops, The Toy Hearts, and The Gravy Boys that fall into more of a folk or Americana sound rather than the traditional sound that I am more accustomed to hearing.
After that quick impression of Mipso and their latest project, I set the CD aside. After a couple of weeks, I decided to put the CD back into player and this time, listen without trying to put the group’s musical style in a box. I normally average three weeks when listening to a CD that I am reviewing, and this was no exception. If the car was running, Dark Holler Pop was playing. To my surprise, the more familiar I became with the lyrics and Mipso’s musical style, the more interesting the group became and the more I forgot about categorizing the group.

Is this band perfect? By some standard criteria the answer would be no. There are no flashy breaks taken by any of the group members, although the guest musicians do lend their talents nicely and the sound stays cohesive from track to track. Sometimes, the harmonies do not quite seem as perfected as what I would like however; you do get glimpses into what this group could be capable of with some fine-tuning and time to mature as a unit. Occasionally you will hear what appears to be a missed or out-of-tune note, by both the vocalist and musician. However, once again, these little quirks seem to work for Mipso and these flaws fit.

There are moments of true talent that surface throughout this project and influences from many genres that weave through the songs and allow Mipso to hold your attention. In the mandolin kick-off to “A Couple Acres Greener” and the vocal stylings of “When I’m Gone” and “Do You Want Me”, the influence of Chris Thile is at the forefront. Bob Dylan, while not bluegrass but rather a writer of songs that many groups, not just bluegrass, have turned into cover tunes, seems to come through in the lyrics of “Louise”. This song became a favorite tune of mine as the story of love and family unfolds.

“Border Tonight” brought to mind the country group The Zac Brown Band, with an nontraditional rhythm that transports the listener to a tropical location. The first time I heard the aptly titled “Squirrels”, which covers a variety of topics; my mind went to The Stanley Brothers classic “My Long Skinny Lanky Sarah Jane” and the writer’s lovely description of his Sarah Jane.

Dark Holler Pop contains several songs that, in my broadcaster's opinion, could crossover to bluegrass radio. The upbeat “Carolina Calling” has an easy tone, and if you have ever traveled down the road, yearning for a simpler time and that desire to return there this song will appeal to you. The aforementioned “A Couple Acres Greener”, which talks about evolving, letting go of the past, and leaving the world a better place is also a favorite of mine that, again, has a more bluegrass feel.

Another song that quickly endeared itself to me is “When I’m Gone”. The lyrics of this song hit home, perhaps because of the relationship that I had with my Mawmaw and her belief that this life was just a moment and the best would come after death. This particular song, and its old-time feel, gave me cause to smile each time it played.

“Red Eye to Raleigh” is another cleverly written track, and not just because it contains the phrases “every injured ventricle” and “experimental laparoscopic cardiology”. This broken-hearted lament tells of the difficulty of letting go of a lost love and the doubtfulness of recovery.

While listening to the contents of Dark Holler Pop, you will not hear flashy instrumentation or tight harmonies but rather, a common thread that is reminiscent of friends sitting around jamming. Mipso’s sound is laid back, but not without its own merits. The group believes that this style works for them and I tend to agree. In the end, I am glad that I gave Mipso a second chance, expanded my bluegrass genre horizons, and will undoubtedly find myself listening to Dark Holler Pop again.

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