There are times when it makes perfect sense to categorize a singer or band in a particular genre. In some cases, as with Barnstar!, the artistry can’t be pigeonholed. Zachariah Hickman (bassist for Josh Ritter and musical director for Ray Lamontagne) started the quintet with four other talented tunesmiths and sidemen, Jake Armerding, Taylor “Old Train” Armerding, Mark Erelli, and Charlie Rose.
Unlike the band’s 2011 debut C’mon!, this second effort brings the musicians together with a more richly textured sound. Hickman (double bass and pump organ) produced the CD. Jake plays fiddle, viola, and mandolin on “Delta Rose,” Taylor jams on mandolin, Erelli lays down the guitar groove, and Rose masters the banjo and even tinkers with the triangle. All men sing vocals, swapping out the lead part on various songs. Taking a well-deserved break from their usual sidemen gigs, the musicians were able to throw their creative energy into new compositions like the Appalachian mining lament “Cumberland Blue Line” (penned by Rose & Erelli) and Erelli’s murder ballad “Barnstable County.” Says Hickman, “What continues to define Barnstar! is that we’re not singing songs as an excuse to play a solo. We like to sink our teeth into songs that have a narrative or a story to them and then make them our own.” The originals certainly deserve respect, but I’m partial to some of their covers such as the CD’s lead-off single “Six Foot Pine Box.” (Signature Sounds, 32 Masonic St., Northampton, MA 01060, www.signaturesounds.com.)BC