The Stetson Family is an Australian quintet with a heavily song-focused approach. The lead vocal and songwriting chores are split fairly evenly between guitarist/resonator guitarist Nadine Budge and guitarist John Bartholomeusz (the latter writing in tandem with banjoist Colin Swan). Budge’s songs have more of an original spark, which may explain why she was selected to participate in IBMA’s Songwriter Showcase in 2012. Even though a few of her best pieces could be categorized as sad waltzes, there’s never a sameness to them. Each of her songs has a life of its own, from the nostalgic romantic reverie of “Dark Side Of Town” and the melancholic “Traces Of You” to the anthemic title track.
The Bartholomeusz/Swan songs more clearly reveal their influences in traditional folk and bluegrass, with the requisite work song (“Smokey Valley”), prison song (“That’s How Much I Miss Your Love”), and murder ballad (“Hey, Sister Mary”). To their credit, though, they manage to put their own little idiosyncratic twist on each of them.
All bandmembers contribute to the very accomplished vocal mix, including mandolinist Andrew Carswell and bassist Luke Richardson. Instrumentally, banjoist Swan sounds like he has the strongest bluegrass chops, with the guitar and mandolin seeming more at home on the softer, folksier tracks. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to be commended for a band that has carved out its own body of songs, all with plenty of traditional influences. Whether you consider this acoustic Americana or Australiana, these are five original voices worth a listen for bluegrass fans. (www.thestetsonfamily.com)HK