Cascade Crescendo’s name honors the majestic Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest including Oregon, and this Portland-based group’s impressive debut album proves yet again that you don’t have to hail from the Appalachian or Blue Ridge Mountains to create heartfelt, exciting bluegrass.
This is a self-described Americana bluegrass jam band. There are many examples of extended flights of instrumental jamgrass fancy, with an accent on modern sounds and creative songwriting. But there’s percolating bluegrass picking, too, and the original songs are as thoughtful as the instrumental arrangements, with no gratuitous notes or lyrics. (All the numbers here were written by the band, except for a disarming bluegrass adaptation of “Disarm” by Billy Corgan of the alt-rock band Smashing Pumpkins.) Indeed, the band shifts tempos and moods as smoothly as “Old Charlie Rose,” a trucker in one of its touching originals, shifting gears while winding through the Oregon hills.
The lineup is Hunter White (guitar and lead vocals), Aden Beck (mandolin), Taylor Skiles (bass), and Harrison Olk (banjo). Guesting to great effect on five tracks is fiddler Allie Kral (Yonder Mountain String Band). Hearing the band inspired, even on fire, in “Midnight Sun” is a joy. That song, referencing the long summers of the higher Northern latitudes, is one of many examples of how Cascade Crescendo starts with Southern traditions, then draws on its own Pacific Northwest for inspiration and celebration. “Life Goes On” sounds like a true song. No wonder bluegrass has proven such a versatile and universal genre.
“Epic Journey,” with its clever lyrics about life and its sweet confusions, must be a huge favorite at the band’s gigs. But like the entire album, the number translates perfectly to a non-show recording. Drummer Nick Werth appears on the finale selection, “Big H Blues.” This gently rolling number is reminiscent of songs that Herb Pedersen contributed to The Dillards when he was in that band, and it contains the album’s title lyrics, caught in the rain. Although it quotes lyrically from the jug band standard “Hesitation Blues,” its wistful poetry also references the victims of a bigger “H,” the nationwide heroin epidemic: Their pockets are full of balloons / but they sink to the ground. It’s a thoughtful ending to an impressively realized and attractively packaged album. The whole team did themselves proud, from the band and guests to executive producer Jim Lesperance, producer/engineer Avi Brown and cover artist Brie Thompson. The band is reportedly planning a 2017 tour. I hope they carry along many copies of Caught In The Rain. They shouldn’t be caught without them. (www.cascadecrescendo.com )RDS