To those of us in the newgrass generation that came to age in the early 1970s, progressive approaches to bluegrass music are nothing new. The traditional sounds of the first generation are still the main trunk of the bluegrass tree, even as the genre’s pre-bluegrass roots and post-first generation branches are explored. With the motivation of open-minded legends like Hartford, Watson, and Scruggs, it was a generation of amazing musicians that said, “For us to be a part of the family, we’re going to have to do it our way at some point.” Jim & Jesse’s Berry Pickin’ In The Country, the Earl Scruggs Review, and Aereo-Plain were soon followed by New Grass Revival, Old And In The Way, and the David Grisman Quintet.
These days there is a resurgence of exploration of the overall bluegrass theme, much to the chagrin of purists, of course. MilkDrive is such a group, a new band from Austin, Tex., that bills itself as a “contemporary jazz-grass band.” While MilkDrive may not be as far out on the innovative musical branches currently being cultivated by the Punch Brothers, their music has an inviting flow to it that reminds me of the Grisman Quintet’s heyday. MilkDrive is made up of Noah Jeffries on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo, Brian Beken on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, Dennis Ludiker on mandolin and fiddle, and Matt Mefford on double bass. Ludiker, Beken, and Jeffries met on the fiddle contest circuit as kids, so their chops are well-honed.
What I like about MilkDrive’s new album Waves, expertly produced by Bil VornDick, is it’s not about giving a music lesson with every song. The album swings and also has a light and breezy mid-1960s feel to it that makes it fun. Guests include Noam Pikelny and Roy “Futureman” Wooten. (www.milkdrive.com.)DH