(Lonely Highway Records, CD, digital download)
Various incarnations of the Bondville Boys have been rambling through the southern portion of the Green Mountains since 1990, which makes them one of the longest-lasting bluegrass bands — or bands of any kind, really — in Vermont. Though their ranks have shifted over the years, the group's résumé is stout; it includes innumerable festival gigs and appearances with the likes of the Del McCoury Band and the Gibson Brothers. Still, the Bondville Boys aren't exactly a household name, even in bluegrass circles. Their recently released record, Rivergrass, could change that.
The album is composed of 16 songs, all penned by various members of the band. Each writer brings a distinctive flavor to the rustic proceedings. Guitarist and banjo player Tom Morris, a band cofounder, serves up trad-leaning, upbeat fare on cuts such as the opener, "Seein' How" and the slick instrumental "Sleeping Jack." Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jake Geppert, also an original member, employs a swooning tack on "Memories of Virginia" and the wistful "Down by the Jenny Brook."
Not all of the Bondville Boys are boys. (The band's tagline is "Some of us are from Bondville and some of us are boys.") Laura Molinelli, the band's third original member, adds a welcome feminine touch with her bluesy delivery on "Left Behind." Her performance on "Unsaid Conversation," a provocative number that stretches the definition of bluegrass, is particularly stirring.
Ben Campbell is the newest member of the group. His contributions are mostly on guitar, mandolin, bass and harmony vocals. But his lone song, "Sandy Darlin'," is a gem. It's a tender, loping ballad complete with whistled melody. It's not as progressive as Campbell's pop musings in his other musical persona, Saint Albums. But fans will recognize his winsome charm on Rivergrass.
Instrumentally, the band is solid and rarely flashy. With the exception of bassist Dennis Fink, each member is credited with several instruments, so it's not always clear who is playing what. But the group plays cohesively and tastefully together. That general sense of restraint allows for vocals and guest instrumentalists to take center stage. The latter includes ace fiddler Caleb Elder, guitarist Chris Clark and bassist Christian Heinz.
Somewhat surprisingly, Rivergrass is the first studio recording from the Bondville Boys; their two previous releases were both live albums. Here's hoping they don't wait another 24 years for a follow-up.
Rivergrass by the Bondville Boys is available at cdbaby.com. Two members of the group, Campbell and Molinelli, play the Paramount Theatre in Rutland this Friday, November 21, in support of Amy Helm.