Paul Hoffman- mandolinist and lead singer for Greensky Bluegrass- told NPR he was trying to write a “windows down rock and roll tune” when he wrote the first song of the group’s 7th studio album All For Money due January 18th. I’m not sure I got it when I first listened to Do it Alone on my computer when the song was released last month, but I gave the album it’s deserved environment by blasting it in my car on this unseasonably warm weekend, and it’s clear that GSBG has once again delivered on their continued evolution of progressive bluegrass while making approachable ‘rock’ music.
If Do it Alone is on the front edge of GSBG’s stylistic progression towards rock and roll, Murder of Crows reminds us of the genres bluegrass/country roots as guitarist/vocalist Dave Bruzza sings the first of 3 songs on the album. I’m not sure if I’m the first to write this, but I always have images of Kris Kristofferson in my head when Bruzza sings. His songs often become favorites among GSBG diehards. I’ve seen a number of their live shows but it wasn’t until I finally immersed in one of their studio albums that I now share that appreciation.
With What You Need, we get back to the recognizable groove and introspective lyrics that have carried GSBG for nearly 20 years. The upbeat rhythm gives the entire band- Paul, Dave, Michael Bont (banjo), Mike Devol (bass), and Anders Beck (dobro)- room to trade solos and deliver one of a handful of songs on the album that seem road ready for their upcoming All For Money winter tour.
With the risk of sounding wonky, I’ve always described the GSBG bluegrass sound as bluegrass music except with a bass line that walks and drives like a rock band rather than the alternating notes so ingrained in traditional bluegrass. The result is music that- regardless of lyrics- bends towards the nostalgic. Combine that with the genuine and honest songwriting from Hoffman and you get… well, the band’s meteoric rise over the last few years speaks for itself. Ashes, Courage for the Road, and Collateral Damage keep that spirit alive. And don’t mistake my brevity for suggesting the middle of the album is flyover country- rather, I would bet that the 4-song stretch from What You Need to Collateral Damage are some of the most played during the upcoming tour as they fit the typical GSBG bill closely but with matured compositional and lyrical songwriting when compared to past efforts.
Much like a set from one of the group’s powerful live shows, Collateral Damage starts a cool down period on the album that extends through Like Reflections, Cathedral Eyes, and Wish I Didn’t Know as the album builds toward a finale. The Bruzza-penned Like Reflections once again has the country themes familiar with Bruzza tunes, while Cathedral Eyes follows up as a duet between Hoffman and Bruzza. The two vocalists have vastly different voices and singing styles, but their voices blend surprisingly well in Cathedral Eyes and after a couple listens through the album this song ranks near the top for the melodic themes carried by the vocalists and each instrument throughout the tune. Wish I Didn’t Know is a unique song on the album that begins to pick the energy back up with upbeat instrumentation. The vocals, however, are sung with the delivery that Hoffman can do like no other- somehow conveying a haunting-yet-cathartic feeling that drags over the top of the fast-picking of the band for a captivating contrast.
The end of Wish I Didn’t Know is an electric dobro feedback fade-out, which leads into the final Bruzza tune It’s Not Mine Anymore. Like the first song on the album, this song has more of a rock and roll feel. Yet this one is centered around Anders Beck’s electric dobro sound that makes regular appearances during their live shows. The dark tune gives way to the penultimate song on the album, Do Harm. Do Harm is a complete 180 musically from It’s Not Mine Anymore, as the poppy tune skates on top of Hoffman’s rhythmic mandolin pop and Devol’s catchy bass runs. In typical Hoffman style, however, the somewhat glum subject matter of the lyrics sets up the familiar dichotomy of many of my favorite GSBG songs.
All For Money is a frenetic-paced and fitting finale for the album. The nearly 8-minute song starts out catchy but quickly devolves into a long stretch of psychedelic space. Beck’s electric dobro sound eventually claims the lead and pulls the band back into one last triumphant romp through a verse and refrain. The pace then slows into tense noise and feedback before a clear full-band chord ends the album in a way that left me smiling and reminded me of the end of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band.
GSBG continued to mature and evolve on All For Money without deviating too far from what led to a 2018 that saw them headlining multiple summer music festivals and selling out venues across the country. If this album is any indication, 2019 will be even better.
Catch Greensky Bluegrass LIVE at The Madison Theater on January 16.