Taking Coals to Newcastle (or Bluegrass to America in this case)
In my experience Bluegrass and Mountain Music fans can be the most critical of all the Americana genres; demanding authenticity and background knowledge of NASA standards; meaning that anyone tampering with the well worn template can expect criticism to make your hair curl.
If you are one of those people; turn away now because the multi-national Coal Porters have, not quite torn up the rule book but learned it off by heart and thought “I can make that better.”
FIND THE ONE opens with Kentuckian Sid Griffiths singing about the delights of dancing Barefoot on the Courthouse Lawn and casual listeners; like myself will have to prick up their ears because not only has he got the perfect well-worn Southern drawl but the musicianship that supports him is of the very, very highest standard.
Track two is Never Right his Wrong which has Canadian Carly Frey on vocals and violin and I have to make it clear that she is a violinist playing the fiddle, not just a fiddle player. Every stroke of her bow sounds exquisite and there certainly isn’t any of that scritching and scratching that is synonymous with Bluegrass music; this woman is of orchestra standard and should be lauded for playing music that she so obviously enjoys.
Carly and banjo player John Breese go on to thrill and amaze with their self-penned instrumental, The Betsey Trotwoodwhich showcases the qualities of these two much maligned instruments – toes will tap right across the known World.
While Sid Griffin takes the lead on most songs; his long term cohort, Scottish singer-songwriter Neil Herd comes very close to stealing the show with his own song Farmers Hands; about leaving the family home to seek your fortune in the wacky world of Rock & Roll but you will be astounded by his vocals and those of Carly Frey, who alternates the verses, on their radically re-arranged (and improved) version of Bowie’s Heroes. It took me three listens to realise what I was listening to and when the penny dropped I punched the air in delight.
While I absolutely love the whole album my favourite track is Griffin and the band letting rip on the rowdy love song; You Only Miss Her When She’s Gone which encapsulates the very heart and soul of The Coal Porters.
If you think a Bluegrass band attempting to cover Heroes was odd, you have to hear their version of Paint It Black, by the Rolling Stones which begins and ends with a sitar solo and in between has harmonies that will send shivers down your back and a banjo solo to die for – Bill Monroe never envisaged anything like this, but it works.
Three great songwriters, four wonderful voices and five amazing musicians who all obviously love what they are doing; what’s not to like?