The Americana genre allows for a freedom not always present in bluegrass or old-time music. Where an “outside” instrument or arrangement or song in bluegrass may draw a jaundiced eye or two, in Americana no one blinks. That freedom is on full display on this new album from the Sommers Rosenthal Family Band. Though the material is drawn largely from the bluegrass songbook, including such standards as the title-tune, “I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome,” “East Virginia Blues,” “Gathering Flowers From The Hillside,” and Phil Rosenthal’s own “Muddy Water” and “Brother John,” the settings are Americana. Jazz trumpet and fluegelhorn, played by Dan Rosenthal, appears throughout, as does clawhammer banjo, electric guitar, drums, and Fender Rhodes piano. The sound of the band is a mix of jazz, folk, bluegrass, and much, much more.
The question is, does it work? On a whole, yes. There are a few tunes here that fall a little short of the mark, the vibrolux-driven guitar backing on “He Rocks Me To Sleep,” for one, the medium-tempo airyness of “Midnight Special” for another. One or two more “up” tunes would be welcome. As it stands, only the clawhammer and trumpet instrumental “Down Home” and the trio (banjo, mandolin and fluegelhorn) arrangement of the title-tune have real fire. But, generally, the arrangements and settings are nicely handled. The understatement of the jazzy “I Know…” is very good, as is the longing of Naomi Sommers singing A.P. Carter’s “Gathering Flowers…” and Dylan’s “Your Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” The best may be the “St. James Infirmary” treatment of “Muddy Water.” Extremely slow, almost spoken and underlaid with trumpet, it is arguably as good as the original. That highlights a very good recording. (American Melody, P.O. Box 270, Guilford, CT 06437, www.americanmelody.com.)BW