Mama Corn is a lively five-piece band centered around State College, Pa., in the north-central part of the state. On Hold That Crooked Line, their second release, they lean heavily on their original material to showcase their freewheeling take on bluegrass music.
Like with many new recordings released these days, it’s not clearly indicated who is singing lead on which track, since each bandmember is credited as a vocalist. But they do a good job of creating a cohesive band sound even though (or, perhaps, because) the 11 originals on the album were all composed by various members of the band. That’s if you include the opening track, the energetic “Shenandoah Mountain Tops” written by Ben Nelson, the father of their banjoist Jeremy Nelson.
This is a band that seems to tap into the relaxed roots-music vibe reminiscent of Larry Keel’s music. It’s a good-time approach to traditional music that references certain iconic themes: murder ballads (“The Hanging Of Alfred Andrews”); festivals (“Smoked Country Jam”); local history (“Red Arrow Train” and “James Cleveland”), and rough and rowdy ways (“Someday Knock On Wood”). Nelson’s banjo adds some of the strongest bluegrass components to the arrangements, with instrumental flavoring from Johnny Stevens on resonator guitar and harmonica, mandolinist Chuck Cox, guitarist Bruce Forr, and bassist Bryan Homan.
Mama Corn’s choices of cover songs may be as much of a window into their stylistic approach as their originals. They present a faithful rendition of Si Kahn’s classic ballad “Aragon Mill,” but bring an interesting and ominous twist to “Keep On The Sunny Side” by singing it in a minor key. The album concludes with an easygoing and playful rendition of “Walk Right In,” the old Gus Cannon song that those of us of a certain vintage can only associate with the Rooftop Singers.
It’s hard to know if this album will necessarily win the band new friends with an older bluegrass audience. But it seems very likely to appeal to their younger core crowd, one that likes its bluegrass presented as a funky, friendly, and easily accessible musical mix. (Mama Corn, 1212 Pine Cir., Bellefonte, PA 16823, www.mamacornbluegrass.com.)HK