Mama Corn, a fun and funky bluegrass group from central Pennsylvania, has scaled down from a quintet to a quartet since their previous recording Hold That Crooked Line. On Live And Learn, they sound like they’ve done exactly that, refining their sound and repertoire and managing that precarious balance between polish and spunk. They also succeed in maintaining a relatively consistent sound, which can be a bit of a trick when you’re balancing four different lead vocalists and four songwriters. It helps that all the singers are solid vocalists, with guitarist Bruce Forr’s craggy delivery standing out as the most distinctive. But when combined with some high-tenor harmonies and the tasty banjo work of Jeremy Nelson and the single-string resonator guitar playing of John Stevens, Mama Corn offers enough of bluegrass music’s rootsy charm even while delving into folk and blues.
Regional bands can live or die on the strength of their original material, and Mama Corn has included some memorable songs on their new release. One of the numbers that stands out is “Nobody Died,” a very clever novelty song that serves as an alternative to the classic bluegrass death wish and turns out to be a hitherto-unrecorded collaboration between Stevens and none other than Peter Rowan. Bassist Bryan Homan contributes “In The High Rise,” an up-tempo, if not upbeat, exploration of modern 9-to-5 existence that John Hartford captured so eloquently in his “In Tall Buildings.” There’s a surprising but ultimately successful bluegrass adaptation of Tom Paxton’s classic “Last Thing On My Mind.” “Sing!” is an effectively rousing paean to rambunctious musicianship, an appropriate anthem for a band such as this.
It’s gratifying to see a band like Mama Corn take a significant step forward in their musical growth, and Live And Learn indicates that the band may have lots more good music in them and ahead of them. (www.mamacornbluegrass.com)HK