Smoke & Ashesis the second album for the Lonely Heartstring Band, recipient of the 2015 IBMA Momentum Award for Band Of The Year. As the band’s name implies, the group has developed its unique sound rooted in pop and rock (such as The Beatles and Paul Simon), but grounded with bluegrass sensibilities.
The band consists of a traditional bluegrass instrumentation: banjo (Gabe Hirshfeld), fiddle (Patrick M’Gonigle), mandolin (Maddie Witler), guitar (George Clements), and bass (Charles Clements). All band members were trained at either Berklee College of Music, the New England Conservatory, or the Manhattan School of Music, and all are extremely proficient at their instruments and vocals. Songs here don’t follow the typical bluegrass arrangement of kickoff (that states a verse of chorus melody), verse, chorus, instrumental solo (based on the melody), repeat verse/chorus/solo, ending tag. Rather, several of the songs (“Reverie,” “Smoke And Ashes,” “In Time”) create sonic textures in the vein of the Punch Brothers or Bela Fleck & The Flecktones. Several of the songs feature time signatures or rhythmic grooves that are unusual in bluegrass (“So Low,” “The Way It All Began,” “Last Refrain”).
Three highlights stand out on this album. First, the musical arrangements are excellent. Second, the way Hirshfeld seamlessly weaves the banjo into the rhythmic grooves is extremely artistic and makes the banjo fit each song. Finally, “The Other Side” is tour de force song that takes the listener on an exciting ride of melody, rhythm, and harmony. It’s great to hear a young band writing its own music and creating its own sound. The band recently announced that it will go on hiatus after the 2019 touring season. Let’s hope the hiatus is short. (Rounder Records, 1201 Demonbreun St., Ste. 600, Nashville, TN 37203, www.rounder.com.)TK