The Americana genre, wide as it is, can be pretty boring sometimes, as it can seemingly include just about anybody who has the guts to play an acoustic guitar in front of an audience. Thankfully, we have The Greencards. Call them progressive bluegrass, newgrass, progressive folk rock – whatever label you want to use, The Greencards have elevated Americana with great vocals, great playing and songs that are strictly theirs, without worrying for a minute about whether or not they get accepted by the mainstream in Nashville where the band is based.
On their fifth, and best, recording, The Brick Album, The Greencards are better than ever, especially with the additions of young fiddler Tyler Andal and flatpicking guitar champion Carl Miner. Since the new members have been able to log some stage time, the band is tight on these 13 tunes (14 counting the hidden “Willow Weep For Me”) that were largely tracked live. Carol Young’s voice is as wonderful as ever, and the songs, most written or co-written by mandolinist/vocalist Kym Warner, are as unique and distinctive as the band itself.
The album opens with the quirky “Make It Out West,” with a guest appearance from one of the fathers of newgrass himself, Sam Bush, playing some slide mandolin. The song’s vocal arrangement could evoke comparisons with a group like Little Big Town, but it’s pretty certain that sounding like the Nashville country-pop group was the last thing on this band’s mind. Vince Gill makes a vocal cameo on “Heart Fixer,” co-written with superpicker (and half of the duo Buxton Hughes) Jedd Hughes. “Adelaide” is a sprightly instrumental that highlights the chops of the band members, with performances and communication that brings to mind the spark of the late ‘70s David Grisman Quintet, as does another instrumental, the interesting “Tale of Kangario.”
The standout track on the record, and the one that could get this band some well-deserved airplay, is “Loving You Is the Only Way to Fly,” a ballad of unrequited love written by Hughes, Sarah Buxton and Rodney Crowell that features Everly-inspired harmonies from Young and Warner. This band has already been nominated for two Grammys for its instrumental work; if the NARAS voters are really listening, this song should get Young, who was a well-known country singer in Australia before she and Warner came to the U.S., a Female Country Vocalist nomination. But we’ll believe that when we see it.
This album is consistently good throughout, due in part to production by Justin Niebank (Keith Urban, Marty Stuart), who seems smart enough to get out of the way and let the band do its thing. The Brick Album is a really good record by a really good band. If the current lineup stays together and continues to grow, maybe the next album will be truly great and not just really good. But for now, it’s good to know that there are still artists out there – especially Nashville-based ones – who are making entire albums that are actually worth spending money on.