- Beg, Steal or Borrow, Old Mountain Time
(Self-released, CD, digital)
Imitation, as the old saw goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. That time-tested concept was the driving force behind the formation of Vermont's Beg, Steal or Borrow — they even cop to as much in the liner notes of their debut full-length album, Old Mountain Time. The quintet formed in 2013 as a tribute to Old & In the Way, a 1970s bluegrass supergroup that counted David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements, Peter Rowan and others among its members. But over the years, covers of "Pig in a Pen," "The Hobo Song" and "Wild Horses" gradually gave way to original material. While largely written in deference to Messrs. Garcia and Grisman, et al., the songs that found their way onto the new record are more than mere imitation — they're the genuine article.
Much credit for that belongs to the band's primary songwriter: guitarist and lead vocalist Jeremy Sicely. He wrote seven of the record's 10 originals and displays a knack for sticky melodies and an appreciation for bluegrass convention. Beg, Steal or Borrow aren't out to reinvent the genre. But they do manage to adorn traditional molds with updated sensibilities, not unlike similar acoustic bands such as Trampled By Turtles or Old Crow Medicine Show.
Sicely sings with a classic style and tone that at times evokes comparison to another Vermonter with a taste for twang: the man of constant sorrow himself, Union Station's Dan Tyminski. Mandolinist Geoff Goodhue's gorgeous tenor is the perfect complement to Sicely's dusky baritone, especially on cuts such as "Harder Than Time," a high lonesome standout.
As an instrumentalist, Goodhue highlights a crack ensemble. His runs on the lilting instrumental ballad "Eve of May," which he wrote, are fluid and melodic, twining seamlessly with Roland Clark's soaring fiddle. The band really gets cooking on the Clark-penned instrumental "The Mountain Rill." Here fiddle, mando and Luke Auriemmo's rolling banjo vie for space, trading bright, buoyant licks while Sicely's guitar and Fran Forim's bass anchor the composition. Auriemmo's Celtic-tinged "Old Tanglewylde" is another instrumental highlight and more evidence of the band's bona fide chops.
Old Mountain Time undoubtedly benefits from the guiding hand and ears of Colin McCaffrey, who produced and engineered. In true McCaffrey fashion, the album sings with clarity, presenting Beg, Steal or Borrow as exactly what they are: a deeply talented group with reverence for the past and a bright future.
Old Mountain Time is available at begstealorborrowvt.com. Beg, Steal or Borrow play Saturday, June 15, at the Rattling Brook Bluegrass Festival in Belvidere.