While some bands are mainly about flashy instrumental work, the Colorado quintet Finnders and Youngberg seem to be principally about the songs. Most on FY5 are by guitarist Mike Finnders, who takes the lion’s share of the lead vocals. He’s a storyteller at heart, converting his experiences and those of people he knows into a wide array of good tales in interesting settings.
“Red Mountain Pass” tells a harrowing story of a treacherous drive on a snowy summit, while “Driftwood” and “Fiddlin’ To My Grave” are both from the musician-as-rambler school. Two of the most striking songs are “Sold On You,” a lovely proclamation of love cast as a slow country weeper, and “Nebraska,” sung by bassist Erin Youngberg, a stark account of an abandoned pioneer woman and her ailing infant. Banjoist Aaron Youngberg joins her on a sweetly swinging recasting of an old Kay Starr/Tennessee Ernie Ford duet, “I’ll Never Be Free.”
The band seems equally comfortable playing swing and classic country as they are bluegrass, and while they transform Hank Thompson’s “Tomorrow Night” with a bluegrass rhythm, the harmonies still have a swing-influenced quality to them. The Youngbergs bring pedal steel guitar and snare drum to the arrangements when they stray from the bluegrass tent. That’s all part of a nice overall sense of harmonies, instrumental breaks, and arrangements all supporting the songs rather than being thrown in for the sake of showing off.
So while a certain amount of eclectic taste might be an important pre-condition for enjoying FY5, another might be that Finnders tends to sing with an over-the-top abandon. He’s good, and he’s expressive, but his vocal flourishes are extravagant at times. The most extreme example is probably his “Connie,” the story of a yuppie-hating barroom brawler who takes defending the barmaid’s honor to violent extremes. It seems like he’s really trying to sing the song in character, but it may stray a mite too far so that it feels like you’re hearing a cross between Jack Nicholson and Yosemite Sam, and may drive the listeners further away from the song rather than drawing them in.
For all that, FY5, is an interesting and original collection of mostly new songs that use bluegrass as a point of departure. Fiddler Ryan Drickey and mandolinist Rich Zimmerman contribute tasty breaks in all the styles that the band explores. Good writing and good playing make this a band worth keeping an ear on. (www.finndersandyoungberg.com.)HK