Based in Asheville, North Carolina, New Freedom Blues is the quintet’s sixth studio album which, while their feet are still firmly planted in the bluegrass pastures, extends its horizons to more modern forms of farming. As such, it’s a kick drum that underpins the title track opener, straddling traditional banjo and fiddle bluegrass and new shapes on a song about the ambivalence of gaining independence but at the expense of ending a relationship. Things get frisky with ‘North Of Cheyenne’, doubtless causing sighs of relief among longtime fans and genre devotees fearing the band might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Indeed, the new directions here are subtle rather than major adjustments, such as utilising a full drum kit (manned by Miles Miller from Sturgill Simpson’s band) for the first time or picking different banjo or mandolin notes and, as such, numbers like ‘Lazy River’, the fiddle driven instrumental ‘Tar Heal’ and the stomping ‘Life And Debt’ certainly won’t scare the horses.
However, elsewhere slow waltzer ‘Pamlico’ has shades of The Band while both ‘One Drop In The Bottle’ and ‘Witch Trials’ swap the mountain still for the honky tonk and ‘Way I’m Made’ has string band swing sensibilities. They also team up with emergent Appalachian country star Tyler Childers who co-wrote and sings on album closer ‘Down Low’, a bluesier outlaw country number haunted by the ghost of Waylon Jennings.
Well aware of on what side their bread is buttered, it may upset the bluegrass applecart, but it’s good to hear them redistributing the load somewhat.
Artists’ website: www.townmountain.net
‘Life And Debt’ – live: