Big Spike Bluegrass, a quintet of fine musicians based in northern Vermont, has an answer for those who question whether there's any "real" bluegrass music coming out of New England: their promising debut album, Cheatin'/Lying/Leavin'/Crying. The band is headed down the same dusty road navigated by past and present North Country bluegrass combos such as the Gibson Brothers, Breakaway, The Bluegrass Gospel Project, Pine Island and Banjo Dan & the Mid-nite Plowboys.
Even though there isn't a single traditional bluegrass cover on this disc, each one of the 13 cuts -- mostly arranged in classic mid-1940s Bill Monroe-bluegrass style -- sounds like it could have been written decades earlier. In fact, almost all of the tunes are original, penned either by the band's mandolinist/fiddler Neil Rossi or guitarist Pete Langdell. Evoking the legacies of seminal country musicians Jimmie Rodgers and Charlie Poole, the timelessness of the music leaves no doubt that the composers spent lots of time listening to and enjoying the old country and bluegrass classics.
Langdell's talents extend beyond just pickin' -- a luthier, his Rigel Mandolins are currently played by pros such as Chris Thile and Jamie Masefield. Rossi and Langdell, along with banjo player Bill Gaston, bassman Kirk Lord, lead fiddler Freeman Corey and guest dobro player Adam Frehm are all technically fine players who mesh well as a band.
The band's collective vocal abilities, however, do not quite measure up to their instrumental prowess. On many tracks the vocals sound as if they are mixed into the background. If they were punchier, you wouldn't have to struggle to hear the words.
Still, the overall vibe of the recording is homey and comfortable, like listening to a bunch of old friends making fine music in a big cozy living room. All told, Cheatin'/Lying is a fine debut from a group of talented players. On Wednesday, June 8, they'll play as part of an exciting series of bluegrass shows at Henry's Pub in the South Burlington's Holiday Inn. Goin'?