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Windy Hill is a traditional bluegrass group from California with three prior releases to their credit. Live From The Ratz Nestwas recorded using just two microphones (“one for the bass, and one for everything else”) straight to tape, in one weekend in the living room of a ten bedroom commune. The result is a nice live feel to the proceedings, even though there is no audience. (There are some short “banter tracks” included which probably should not have been.) And let’s be clear that traditional here means hardcore, half-inch-from-the-bridge banjo picking and karate-chops-on-the-mandolin work, with vocals and arrangements to match.

Personnel include Ryan Breen on banjo, Thomas Wille on guitar, Andy O’Brien on mandolin, Jan Purat on fiddle, and Kyle McCabe on bass (assuming “keeping the low end pumping”  means playing bass).  In the 16 tracks on this release, there are apparently some originals included, but with no composer credits (and unfortunately no vocal credits or publishing credits and track times), it’s not possible to credit the band’s composers.

Whatever the shortcomings of the CD jacket, the music here is very solid. Breen’s punchy banjo work drives the band’s sound, and O’Brien’s mandolin and Purat’s fiddle also do a fine job. Highlights include “I Guess It’s Only Right That I Should Pay” with some very nice soulful vocal harmony, especially strong lead vocal work on “I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome,” a fiery instrumental “Frog On A Lilly Pad” with some great work by O’Brien on mandolin and Purat on fiddle, a well-done Carter Family-style version of “Would You Care?” with very effective guitar work from Wille, “Down South In New Orleans” done in a convincing punchy bluegrass style, and a sweet waltz-time “Changing Partners.”

As with any live recording, there are a few spots that could have been fixed, had overdubs been possible, and that includes one or two vocal harmony spots which don’t gel here. But overall, this is a very impressive live recording. Using essentially a single microphone, the sound is remarkably clean, clear, and well-balanced. The instruments and vocals sound great, and it’s clear this band knows how to work a single mic. They have good material, some fine vocals, and instrumentally, they clearly know the sound they want and have no trouble reaching it.  Nicely done. (

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