Writing, arranging and recording an album in “various houses and apartments” is not glitzy, but with the tools available in this day-in-age quality control is not only attainable, but a worthwhile education and a microscopic view of one’s own sound. The experience of figuring out the process on a DIY level is respectable, and the personal rewards can reach its fullest potential.
One of Jackson’s freshest up-and-coming acts, bluegrass quintet Wood Smoke Rising, has done just that. The self-titled, ten-track release was a team project between members Andy Gabel (banjo/vocals), Josh Metten (fiddle), Lucas Nash (mandolin), Rob Sidle (bass/vocals), and bandleader Mike Swanson (guitar/vocals).
Engineered by Sidle and co-mixed by Sidle and Swanson, the album of original material is split between instrumental dashes and lyrical experiences via a gruff-voiced Swanson. The instrumental flourishes—often arranged and led by Nash—encompass a weighty portion of the attention span, also highlighted by Gabel’s prominent banjo rolls, especially on “Solitude.” The studio set has the push and pull feel of a live show, at times mixed with an emphasis on what the individual players have to offer as opposed to the sum of the greater whole.
Moments of that group chemistry show up in a terrific arrangement of “Water Rising,” as well as the seven-plus minute Nash jazz-grass tune “Release the Hounds,” which features solid bowing and thumping from Sidle in an open-aired jam format with a dramatic close. The Swanson/Gabel co-write “Tony’s Blues” is a standout track showcasing Gabel on electric harmonica, with a solid solo run via Metten, and a chance for everyone to showcase their chops. Wood Smoke Rising is evidence of a talented band of instrumentalists having fun and developing a sound that brings to mind no other contemporary string band, especially when Swanson is singing.
For more insight on the group, check out this interview with Swanson. To preview the album’s music, surf over to the band’s music player. Beginning Friday, digital copies of the album will be on iTunes, while CDs will be available via the band’s website.
Wood Smoke Rising Album Release Party, 10 p.m. Thursday July 9 at Town Square Tavern. $5 includes a copy of the CD.