Spirit Family Reunion: Hands Together

0004349858_10Spirit Family Reunion
Hands Together
(Self-released)
3.5 out of 5 stars

It’s perfectly logical that New York City’s bluegrass rocking Spirit Family Reunion would tackle “Down on the Corner” as their contribution to a recent Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute. You can almost see the quintet on a Coney Island street corner blowing harmonica, slapping a homemade tub bass with washboard percussion for the love of it, creating tapping feet and maybe a few tips from passersby. It comes as little surprise that the group started by playing on subway platforms and at farmer’s market stands.

Capturing that vibe in what can be a sterile studio environment is far more difficult but SPR pulls it off on their sophomore release. The opening “Wake Up, Rounder” is a sharp, peppy song that, like the rest of the album features banjo yet nimbly balances folk, bluegrass, country and even rockabilly without falling easily into any particular genre. The disc’s first single “It Does Not Bother Me” even adds a catchy pop chorus that, while not representative of the group’s overall output, also doesn’t feel out of place or a desperate grab for commercial acceptance.

The disc’s upbeat tracks are its most immediately accessible. Songs such as “All the Way Back Home” featuring lead banjo and a jittery groove along with skiffle-ish “Keep it Turning” are guaranteed crowd pleasers. And even if the ballads like the somber “How I Long to Take that Ride,” the moody “Don’t be a Liar” and especially the F-bomb chorus of “Wait for Me” initially feel like they are putting the brakes onto the band’s natural impulses, they are lyrically and musically sophisticated. Unfortunately they are clumped together on the album’s final third, which slows its momentum.

Together the more reserved tracks and the higher octane ones show that Spirit Family Reunion has the depth and breadth to stretch their beloved roots into a well-rounded outfit, determined not to be pigeonholed. In that way they somewhat emulate Creedence who shifted from the traditional “Cotton Fields” to the dark ominous shadows of “Effigy,” on the same album, with remarkable ease. While no one would confuse the two acts, if Spirit Family Reunion can continue to refine this diverse sound, other bands may someday be paying tribute to them.