Best known for his songwriting of jam band style music for his St. Paul, Minnesota-based group Big Wu, Chris Castino took advantage of the COVID isolation over the past two years to rework and rearrange some of his catalog into bluegrass tunes. For this new project he has gathered together his friends in the Chicken Wire Empire band, along with a host of guests, to produce this new collection showcasing his efforts.
Castino leads it all on guitar and vocals and the Chicken Wire Empire band is staffed by Ryan Ogburn (mandolin), Jordan Kroeger (bass), Ernest Brusbardis IV (fiddle, vocals), and Jon Peik (banjo, vocals). The list of special guests that Castino has asked to play is long and includes Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien, Andy Hall, Nick Forster, Jerry Douglas, and Peter Rowan.
All the songs were written by Castino and The Chicken Wire Empire is a group of very good musicians who really augment these selections, including “Kangaroo,” “Rhode Island Red,” “Irregular Heartbeat” and “Goodbye, Fond Du Loc (The Young Pioneer).” The remainder of the cuts include guests like Sam Bush (fiddle) on “Red Sky,” and Adam Greuel (vocals) on “Minnesota Moon.” Tim O’Brien (fiddle) and Nick Forster add vocals to the ballad “Bound For The South,” while Jerry Douglas (resonator guitar) is joined by Adam Greuel (vocals) on “Jackson Country” and Douglas teams up with Peter Rowan (vocals) on “The Ballad of Dan Toe.”
This is a very good album of Castino’s music and all of the musicians and guests really add to the arrangements, creating a nice jar of “Fresh Pickles”.