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Bluegrassers Appalachian Road Show release LP

Bluegrass is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the United States and abroad right now, and the biggest reason why can unquestionably be traced to indie acts like Appalachian Road Show, whose last LP was universally lauded by critics and fans who know the genre best two years ago in 2018. Appalachian Road Show are back in the spotlight this spring with a lovely effort in Tribulation, a multilayered concept piece that brings us through movements of retrospective bluegrass ballads and bruisers with spoken word interludes. Instead of indulging in the progressive side of its aesthetical make up early on, this all-new record unfolds slowly like a newly-blossomed rose, inviting all of us into its arms with a tender tonality as often as it does an evocative verse.

There isn’t a lot of unutilized space in the master mix here; from the opening cuts “The Spirit of Appalachia” (spoken) and “Don’t Want to Die in the Storm” forward, the voices and velvety lead vocals that come attached to furious string play always sound so crisp and overwhelmingly imposing that it’s as if the band were in the room with us. Part of this can be chocked up to the top quality producing – after all, with the kind of polish Appalachian Road Show apply to every track here, it should sound so clean it’s surreal – but I’d be the first to point out that there’s nothing standoffishly inorganic about any part of this material. “99 Years and One Dark Day” bites as hard as the melodically mystifying “Tribulations” does, with everything in-between serving as an artistic and sonic segue into the next chapter of the band’s story.

PRIMARY URL: https://www.theappalachianroadshow.com/

After listening to this LP more than a couple of times through, I can undisputedly verify that there isn’t a hint of commercialism to be found in any of the music here. “Sales Tax on the Women,” the frighteningly potent “Gospel Train” and “Hard Times Come Again No More” are bursting at the seams with an emotionality that I can’t imagine anyone being able to successfully fake in or outside of the studio. The lessons imparted to us in “Wars. Torn Asunder,” “The Old World & New Sounds” and “Hardship, Hope, and the Enduring Spirit of Appalachia” do not come steeped in references to modern politics, nor some lucrative agenda on the part of Appalachian Road Show. If anything, Tribulation feels more like a work of passion than a play for profit, and that’s not too easy to find in popular music anymore.

Premium songcraft is becoming about as hard to come by as a half hour of the nightly news filled with nothing but positive stories, but if you pick up Appalachian Road Show’s Tribulation this season, I think you’re going to be surprised at how many gems the group managed to pack into its tracklist. These are tough times that call for an even tougher soundtrack, and in my experience, there have never been a people like those who inspired Tribulation that we could stand to learn more from in terms of resilience and perseverance. 2020 desperately needed a hot shot of melodic thunder, and this record is essentially all that and more.

Mindy McCall

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