Producer Tom Mindte and his Maryland-based Patuxent Music label have established a well-deserved reputation for giving recording opportunities to bluegrass veterans such as Frank Wakefield and Dede Wyland as well as up-and-coming younger players trying to establish a foothold.
Serene Green is a Pennsylvania-based quartet from the latter camp, and as might be expected, they still display both strengths and weaknesses on what is apparently their second release. Not atypically, their picking is ahead of their singing at this point. Assuming that the group’s three vocalists sing lead on their own compositions, bassist Shane McGeehan probably has the strongest vocal chops, while mandolinist Quentin Fisher is still a bit tentative as a singer, and guitarist Michael Johnson still slides around the melody a bit. Collectively, their harmonies just don’t quite manage to be greater than the sum of their parts.
Instrumentally, banjoist Steve Leonard is powerful and creative if still prone to the flashiness of youth, but all the players know their way around their instruments pretty well. The CD’s dozen tracks include four original instrumentals, but even here the melodies are just short little melodic motifs that aren’t quite strong enough to build much on.
It’s to the band’s collective credit that they’re constructing this recording upon almost all original material, with the sole exception of James Taylor’s “Bartender’s Blues.” The song themes are generally on the slight side, with the noteworthy exception of McGeehan’s “Far Apart,” a poignant window into a relationship that’s in the drifting apart stage.
A sophomore release from a young band deserves to be cut a bit of slack, but there’s still not quite enough to make Serene Green stand out from the pack. Given some more work on the vocal side of things and, perhaps, digging somewhat deeper with their songwriting, they could still develop a more distinctive sound. (Patuxent Music, P.O. Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848, www.pxrec.com)HK