Rating: Fiddles! Fiddles! Like one-million fiddles!
There is such a thing as drop-dead gorgeous toe-tapping bluegrass. And her name is Uncle Earl.
Yes, Alison Krauss is on Rounder Records. And yes, her music is most often terrible. No offence to her and her buds in Union Station, but old-timey music sounds much better when you drop the gloss. And Allie's got gloss in spades.
Which isn't to say that Uncle Earl are a down-home dirty bluegrass band. These four young ladies make for one bad-ass string band, they just also happen to play in tune and sing real pretty, too. They do not, however, try to play pop-bluegrass, which is a good thing, and makes Waterloo, Tennessee a rather compelling mix of standards and originals. As newbie to bluegrass, I can't tell which are which....which is probably the point. It's a record that oozes timelessness and authenticity. If Uncle Earl took that extra low-fi step, you'd probably mistake them for the Stanley Brothers.
Minus the penises, of course.
But enough about the fact that they're all chicks! This band can play! "Wish I Had My Time Again" is a flat-out, foot-stomping barn-burner. It lays low the horrible hordes of invading pop divas lurking from your doorstep to mine in something like two-and-a-half-minutes. The mighty hand of Americana prevails against the wicked! I can't tell you how much I enjoy damn fine fiddle music. So just trust me on this one. It's good.
"Bony on the Isle of St. Helena" turns the tables on their ears, if I may mix my metaphors. There's still a bit of tapping here, but there's also some spare yet gorgeous harmony on this one as well, folks. And knowing me knowing you, you're a sucker for harmony. Admit it. It's not a bad thing.
Over the course of the album, Uncle Earl manage to throw in a few curveballs, too: Some 12-bar blues, shape-note singing, Asian string work, and even a Dylan tune for good measure. Most of the time it works. Occasionally it doesn't. But the fact of the matter remains, if you (A) bought Allie Krauss and EmmyLou records after hearing all that bluegrass music in that one movie with George Clooney, and (B) thought their regular records sucked L-7 weenie, then this is the bluegrass album for you, friend.
So step right up. Rounder Records -- It's not just for 52-year-olds anymore.
(More like 31, give or take a few months.)
Uncle Earl's MySpace