Bluegrass music songwriting has grown and expanded thematically in recent years, with bands like the Infamous Stringdusters and Cadillac Sky bringing a cinematic approach to their original material that tells sweeping stories filled with a novelist’s eye for detail and character. Coupled with a newfound sense of rhythmic and melodic freedom, this new sound in bluegrass is drawing in new fans and giving existing listeners a fresh new sound to enjoy.
Breaking Grass, while hewing to a somewhat more traditional bluegrass sound than others exploring this territory, clearly falls into this exciting new frontier of creative expression. Unafraid to tackle clever arrangements and unusual chord changes, the band immediately establishes a unique and original voice on its self-titled debut CD.
Songwriter and vocalist Cody Farrar sings lead and plays guitar, setting a strong presence for the band from northern Mississippi. All 12 tunes here are originals, which is a brave statement from any band. Here, the material ranges from powerful, clever songs like “The Ghost Song,” “Kentucky To Caroline,” and “Fire Mountain” to other tunes that come across as derivative like “Other Plans,” “On Home,” and “Letter From An Angel.” For the most part, however, Farrar gets his songwriting right here, taking well-worn bluegrass themes and usually adding an interesting lyrical twist that makes it seem fresh and new.
Instrumentally, the band is on solid ground with every player having a good technical base and strong sense of playing in an ensemble. Taken as a whole the band sounds really good. Vocally, it’s the same, with Farrar handling lead vocal duties with aplomb and style. In many ways, his singing seems better suited to straight country than bluegrass, but it certainly fits the material here. And the backup vocals from bassist Britt Sheffield and banjo player Thelton Vanderford merge to give Breaking Grass a solid, cohesive band sound.
For a new band trying to make a name for itself, this effort stands out as a worthy effort based on the more imaginative of Farrar’s original tunes. Built on good instrumental and vocal work, the band creates a pleasant and effective sound that will convert many new listeners to fans. If they can get a strong producer to help refine their sound and weed out some of the weaker material, while building more arresting arrangements and generating more up-tempo excitement, this could be a band to watch in the future. (www.breakinggrass.com) DJM