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Cabinet, 'The Sugarhouse Sessions'

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Cabinet, The Sugarhouse Sessions - COURTESY
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  • Cabinet, The Sugarhouse Sessions

(Astrology Days Records, digital)

Certain albums are bittersweet to me because, no matter how much I enjoy them, I didn't get to be in the room when they were recorded. The fact that I don't even sing or play an instrument makes my FOMO even more unreasonable.

This is how I felt listening to Cabinet's new record, The Sugarhouse Sessions. The Pennsylvania-based group's first album since 2017 was recorded primarily at Waitsfield's Sugarhouse Soundworks and is packed with exploration and experimentation. Mostly, it sounds like the band was having a lot of fun.

J.P. Biondo, who sings and plays the mandolin and guitar, put it this way in an interview with the music site Highway 81 Revisited: "This band is its own creature, its own animal, and it kind of goes in whatever direction it wants to, and sometimes it doesn't tell us where it's going."

The other band members are J.P.'s Vermont-based cousin, Pappy Biondo (banjo, guitar and vocals), Micky Coviello (guitar and vocals), Dylan Skursky (bass), Todd Kopec (violin and turntable), Jami Novak (drums), and Brian "Nugget" Gorby (percussion). Rolling Stone noted that Cabinet went on hiatus in 2017. Now they're back, but in The Sugarhouse Sessions they branch out from their former bluegrass sound to incorporate other Americana and roots traditions.

A JJ Cale influence is apparent, especially on "Silver Sun," in which soft vocals and a gently chugging beat feel very appropriate for spring. On "Universe," the combination of gypsy jazz-style fiddle and saxophone makes for a truly joyful jam.

Amy Helm, singer-songwriter and daughter of the Band's Levon Helm, adds depth to two songs, and her expressive harmonies are a real highlight.

The band experiments, and the results don't always land. A rendition of the folk tune "Deep River Blues," complete with lo-fi vocals, sounds charming and vintage through the verses but descends into something of a wailing cacophony for a full minute and a half at the end of the track. "Down the Line" attempts a grungy, droning sound that does little for me beyond making me feel like I'm in a postapocalyptic desert road movie.

But the album achieves both emotional depth and lightness. On "I Talk to My Friends," writer J.P. Biondo mourns a late friend and the hollow comforts of sitting by a grave. By contrast, "All Greek to Me" is a goofy travelogue of a cowboy who "took a trip to Europe, brought my boots but not my stirrups, and ended up in a land that they call Greece." Facing down the language barrier, he gets "learned up for a week" with Rosetta Stone, and then meets a woman on the flight home.

One can almost picture the near-hysterical delight of putting together a song like that. Maybe invite me next time, guys? I promise to sit quietly in the corner, just soaking up the vibes.

The Sugarhouse Sessions is available on Bandcamp and streaming services.