RAGGED UNION Hard Row To Hoe (Shining Castle Music SCM1501)

RAGGED UNION Hard Row To HoeA new name on the bluegrass circuit, fronted by husband and wife team Geoff and Christina Union, although the percussion-free Colorado-based six piece string band have been playing for a few years they’ve only just got round to recording their first album. Clearly the time spent paying dues has paid off, resulting in a confident, richly-textured debut that mixes originals and lesser known covers and brings a traditional perspective to the tunes and a contemporary edge to the lyrics.

The Unions share songwriting and vocal duties, Christina taking the lion’s share of the latter and kicking things off with her sprightly, bluesy toned ‘Simple Life’, the sparks from Patrick Hoeper’s fiddle and Chris Elliott’s banjo threatening to ignite any stray straw bales. Geoff then pitches in with the equally exuberant ‘Where’s Pappy’, the pair’s voices intertwining as Hoeper and Elliott again do their fiery business.

Christina’s other writing input comes with ‘Run Rabbit Run’, another hard driving bluegrass tune that takes an unexpected brief fiddle-bowing brake in the tempo halfway through, while Geoff takes sole or co-writing credits on five of the other tracks. These range from the shuffling ‘Midnight Train’ and lonesome old tyme waltzer ‘Two Tracks Coming’ (yearningly sung by Christina) to guitar-led instrumental ‘High Line’ and the breakneck banjo scampering ‘Ferris Wheel’. He’s also responsible for arranging the traditional ‘Worry My Life Away’ where Elliott trades frisky licks with mandolin player Jordan Ramsey.

Another instrumental, Elliott takes a writing bow with ‘All Rested’, another duel with Hoeper and Ramsey weighing from his corner. The remaining three numbers are all covers, Geoff taking lead on ‘Rake Out The Nails’, a mid-tempo walking the floor ballad by Charles Humphrey and Sam Guthridge of the Steep Canyon Rangers, Christina heading up Red Allen’s ‘Don’t Lie To Me’ and the pair coming together on a lively bluegrass treatment of Neil Young’s ‘Bound For Glory’, his honky-tonking country duet with Waylon Jennings off Old Ways.

If there’s a criticism of the album, it’s that pretty much of similar pace all the way through, ploughing a fertile, but singular furrow. And while that may reflect the demands of live performance crowds, next time it would be good to adjust the depth of the blade and hear what they crops they raise with something a little slower and more introspective.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: http://raggedunionbluegrass.com/

‘Where’s Pappy’ – live at the Black Rose Acoustic Society: