Colebrook Road CBR 002
No halfway about it. This is one of the most interesting and enjoyable albums from a young band that I’ve spun in nearly four decades of being a reviewer. This Harrisburg, Pa., outfit has a real synergy, both vocally and instrumentally, between its five talented and consistently complimentary members; an abundance of exciting original material; and a refreshing contemporary grass sound that stays very much in the traditional bluegrass mode.
The band is as exciting on stage as it is in the studio, as well. I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing them live, but it’s proven by the album’s final track, “Sun Up, Sun Down,” recorded at the 2015 Podunk Bluegrass Festival in Hebron, Conn., where the group took top honors in the band contest. To borrow a phrase from that song’s chorus, it’s a get up, knock down performance. In the last six years, the ensemble has racked up an impressive string of victories at festivals North and South, including the 2011 Panhandle Contest in Martinsburg, W.Va., and the to 2016 Mid-Atlantic Bluegrass Competition in Bethesda, Md.
Mark Rast was a 1993 winner of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival banjo contest and has been a MerleFest runner-up. (Mark also plays resonator guitar, sings bass, and composed the fiery instrumental “Feel The Burn.”) Joe McAnulty took top honors in bluegrass fiddle at the 2015 Deer Creek Fiddlers Convention. (Here, he contributed the high-steppin’ “Hey Girl.”) Wade Yankey won the 2014 Mandolin Contest at Watermelon Park, Berryville, Va. (His instrumental “Tear Drop Falls” is wistfully lovely, but with a modulating, scale-climbing structure with subtle surprises.)
Obviously, all that’s prevented Colebrook Road’s remaining talented members, Jesse Eisenbise and Jeff Campbell, from coming home with their own armfuls of trophies is that contests for (respectively) lead singer/composer/guitarists and bass player/tenors are woefully scarce. (Campbell contributes a compelling bowed bass solo to “Up In The Mountains.”)
Colebrook Road is one exuberantly creative band. In addition to the examples above, most of the material on Halfway Between comes from the considerable songwriting abilities of Eisenbise (who’s also an impressive and consistently tasteful flatpicker). Fittingly, the album’s title song refers to that half-awake, half-slumbering state which is its own mindset of memories, hopes, regrets, and creativity.
If you need just one track as a sample of the Colebrook Road sound, you won’t do much better than the opener, “Bright Angel.” Its sharp energy is modern and newgrassy (with showcase-level performances in the instrumental breaks and the lead and trio singing). But it’s shaded overall by a minor-keyed, ancient-tone mode that keep it close to traditional roots. In addition to the originals mentioned, my candidates for future favorites (and maybe true classics) include the reflective “The Road We Travel” and also “Shallow River Blues” with its Seldom Scene vibe.
How could co-founders Wade and Jesse have known in the fall of 2008 that nearly a decade later they’d have a band as accomplished and just plain enjoyable as this one? I’m planning to go back and check out their 2012 self-titled debut album, and I’m keenly listening forward to their next one. (www.colebrookroad.com)RDS