No Label, RW008
Thirty years ago or so, I met a banjo player in Louisville while wandering the perimeter of the audience area of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Bluegrass Festival. Nothing odd about that, save that this five-string picker, Silvio Ferretti of Red Wine, was from Genova, Italy. Like a fine vintage, Red Wine has aged very well. Bluegrass bands from outside the USA and Canada have produced strong records for the nearly 45 years since Bluegrass 45. In Pickin’ Friends, however, Red Wine delivers a truly great album, one that deserves serious consideration for Album Of The Year. This provides a great example of what a band can achieve when it sticks together for the long, long run—since 1978 in Red Wine’s case.
Pickin’ Friends exemplifies every aspect of top-notch bluegrass: tremendous drive with crisp, incisive breaks, edge without abandoning roots, first-rate new material from both members and an assortment of today’s best bluegrass composers, and perfect lead and harmony vocals in a variety of settings. Most importantly, Pickin’ Friends proves fun to listen to, again and again. Marking Red Wine’s twentieth anniversary of touring in the USA, it hogs the CD player.
Perhaps the most outstanding single feature of Pickin’ Friends is its consistency. The album lacks filler; packed instead with one strong track after another. Still, I have to mention a few. “Beaver Valley” is an exquisite instrumental led by the banjo that midway converts from an experimental slow-burn piece into a fast traditional workout, featuring subtle references to a number of its predecessors. The ballads “Time Of No Reply” and “Time To Learn” stretch outside the normally narrow emotional range of bluegrass songs. The kickoff and sort of title-track “Tell All My Pickin’ Friends Goodbye” reconstructs Jimmy Martin’s sound for today, right down to the Martin-style snare drums. The drums move out to the front and center on “Where The Sidewalk Ends,” which resembles The Dillards’ memorable country rock experiments of the early 1970s. “Saved” is a gospel song that rocks and boogies with outstanding playing and clever lyrics. I could babble on and on. I’d rather go back to listening to Red Wine’s Pickin’ Friends. I’d suggest you do the same. (www.redwinemusic.net)AM