Bluegrass music is a wonderful genre. Its lively pace, hot instrumental picking, and tight vocal harmonies make it exciting for the listener and great fun for the musician. Its simple melodies and wholesome, down-home themes transport even those of us who grew up in Southern California back to the hills of Kentucky.
Bluegrass music is bound by tradition. Many of today's most well known bands recreate the music of the genre's founding fathers with great fidelity. These bands capture the sound, the look, and feel of the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, and Flatt and Scruggs down to the finest detail.
Bluegrass music also has its limitations. Its strictly defined structures and well traveled themes can, at times, be confining. Musicians, after all, are a creative bunch. It was the desire to branch out from bluegrass and to highlight the songwriting talents of Mike McDonald and Dan Stein that led to the formation of Sycamore Bend.
Creating a sound that holds on to the foundation of bluegrass music, but that also incorporates new ideas isn't easy. Mike and Dan have written a group of songs that shows they are well on their way to doing just that. Mike's songs keep to many of the themes expressed in traditional bluegrass. The closing down of a steel mill, a tale of a corrupt sheriff and the punishment of an innocent man, the perils of mining coal. Mike combines these themes with interesting chord progressions and complex arrangements. Dan writes and sings with the passion of a young man. An encounter with a stranger, late at night on a country road, leaves the protagonist thinking about his future and his own relationships. These are the musical ideas that make Sycamore Bend.
The combination of original material written and performed by Mike and Dan along with the instrumental backup of Steve Hall on Banjo, Doug Carlton on resonator guitar (certainly traditional bluegrass instruments) and Mike's son Travis on bass make for an interesting group. They may even toss in a rendition of Foggy Mountain Breakdown at their live show.
Sycamore Bend's brand new album Cold Hard Winter
The album is available on CD Baby http://cdbaby.com/cd/grassfire