America is witnessing the re-emergence of acoustic music, particularly the bowed, strummed and picked variety. Over the last few years, a new generation of musicians has embraced the instruments and sounds of post-war Appalachia and started producing fresh bluegrass albums for today's music fans. Burlington quartet PossumHaw is one such group. Their self-released debut, split-rail, attempts to bring old-time tradition to modern ears.
Bluegrass typically ranges from high-octane tunes suitable for Friday night table dancing to the smoother, gentler variety heard after church. Some of the genre's newcomers, such as Old Crow Medicine Show and Split Lip Rayfield, represent the rowdy end of the spectrum. PossumHaw, on the other hand, have more in common with bluegrass balladeer Alison Krauss. While some tracks on Split-rail (such as the energetic instrumental "Overhill") are barnstormers, most have a relaxed feel.
The buttery, sweet voice of lead singer Colby Crehan will probably make or break the album for listeners. Some will fall in love with her blanket-warm intimacy while others may find it cloying. Although the rest of the band provides adequate support, their performances aren't radically unique. It's obvious that Crehan's sensual, country-soul vocals are meant to be the centerpiece of PossumHaw's soothing sound.
Lyrically, split-rail echoes themes that could've been heard on the airwaves during the heyday of the Grand Ole Opry. "Come On In" tells the tale of a couple's steadfast love in the face of temptation, while "Fire of '89" educates listeners on the horrors of the Great Savannah Fire of 1889. No matter what decade it is, disasters make for a compelling narrative.
The real question is: Which one of today's bluegrass groups will recast this antique art form into a truly new mold? The Velvet Underground did that for rock and, more recently, Uncle Tupelo did it for country. While split-rail is an immensely enjoyable debut, it doesn't quite amount to a bluegrass revolution. It'll be interesting to see where they take it from here.