The promotional material accompanying this debut CD by the New England quintet Chasing Blue emphasizes their youth.
But while the band consists of Berklee School Of Music students and one recent graduate, their talent and poise give an ageless quality to this short six-track release.
Built around original songs, mostly written by banjoist Maggie MacKay and mandolinist Suzanne Oleson, it’s clear that the group has carefully listened to and absorbed the traditional elements of bluegrass. The two songs “It’s All Water” and “Bad Water” are the closest the group come to a progressive sound, and both make good use of folk and blues elements in the melody and lyrics. Singers Oleson and guitarist Mike Reese are an effective one-two punch, with the twist that it’s Reese who supplies the softer sound. In fact, one oddity about this CD is that Oleson’s voice takes on a pronounced edgy buzzsaw quality on the rougher-hewn songs “Whiskey & Wine” and the murder ballad “Down In West Virginia,” then softens so much on “It’s All Water” that it sounds like a different singer altogether.
Unlike many up-and-coming bands, Chasing Blue’s vocals are a strength of this unit. But, instrumentally, special attention needs to be paid to the fiddling of Trent Freeman. He’s an explosive force throughout the album, and when the CD concludes with his original instrumental “Cookin’ With Mike,” you’ll know by the end that you’ve heard something special. So it’s safe to ignore all the publicity about Chasing Blue being (according to their press kit) “New England’s premier young bluegrass band.” This is a talented and original collection of musicians, regardless of age, and I hope that time allows us to hear a lot more of what they can produce together. (Chasing Blue, 60 E. Charlesgate E., Apt. 112, Boston, MA, 02115, www.chasingblueband.com.) HK