Friday, March 09, 2007

A mellow shade of green

Having been a fan of The Greencards for several years now, I was excited to see them showcasing their new album "Viridian" at Wintergrass. I caught one set at the festival's ballroom stage ("our first dance venue," said bass/vocalist Carol Young) and I sat in at their workshop, titled "Stretching the Boundaries."

After the workshop, I had a chance to sit down with mandolinist Kym Warner for an interview. I asked him what was new on the album.

"More and more it is about the lyric and the vocal," he said. "Instrumentally, we try to add the texture around that as opposed to just feeding in a bunch of flashy licks."

Indeed, after the exuberance that marked their earlier outings, many of the songs on "Viridian" seem almost restrained. The effect is to give greater prominence to Young's soft, haunting vocals, which evoke comparisons to Alison Krause and Patty Griffin. With harmonies and occasional lead vocals from Warner and fiddler Eamon McLoughlin, the sound projects a growing maturity of a band coming into its own.

[Photos: Carol Young (top) and Kym Warner (bottom) on the Wintergrass Ballroom stage.]

"Viridian," from the Latin for "green," is not the name of a song on the record, just a play on the 'Cards favorite color. Since its release a few weeks ago, it has gained lots of airplay and is ranked near the top of the Americana charts.

One departure with this record, Warner said, was the use of a co-producer, Doug Lancio, guitarist and producer for Patty Griffin, a performer the Greencards much admire. The two previous records were self-produced.

"We wanted someone who would push us into areas we might not have gone otherwise but still sounds like the Greencards," Warner said.

To emphasize the richer tone, McLoughlin supplements his outstanding fiddle work with mellow turns on viola and cello. There is also a growing emphasis on guitar accompaniment. On the record, guitar great Bryan Sutton takes most of the six-string work (with additional contributions by Lancio and friend-of-the-band Jed Hughes). The record also includes subtle percussion of most of the tracks.

A spectrum of styles
The new material covers a wide swath of styes, from the straight-ahead bluegrass of "Lonesome Side of Town," which sounds more authentically home-grown than you'd imagine possible from two Aussies and a Brit, to the slow, mournful "Su Prabaht," built on a Hindi riff finger-picked on McLoughlin's fiddle, to the beautiful ballad "All the Way From Italy," the story of Warner's immigrant grandfather's journey from the old country to Australia.

With the variety of styles, the Greencard's musical style is difficult to pinpoint, and Warner is reluctant to put a label on it. "I feel comfortable in the folk scene, and there are elements of what we do that are bluegrass. I think the best description is that we are a 'contemporary acoustic folk band'," he said.

"We made the record about 10 months ago and have been touring since but not playing the songs live. So this is really our first tour featuring the new material," he said.

While the core band is a trio, it usually performs with a guitarist sitting in. On the current tour At Wintergrass, the guitar seat is filled by Andy Falco, an in-demand session player from Nashville who has most recently been a regular with Alecia Nugent. "It's not easy to find someone who is equally at home with the ballads we do and the bluegrass playing and the rhythmic thing. Andy is really good at covering the spectrum," he said.

Since people like Sutton and Pat Flynn have toured with them in the past, I wondered if a guitarist might be added as a permanent member at some point. "Well, we started as a trio and it is the three of us that write and arrange, so that is our identity," Warner said.

Another aspect of their identity is as foreigners playing an American style of music, a contradiction hinted at in the name Greencards. "You always draw on where you are from, and that is a big part of the reason we sound the way we do," he said.

Festival favorites
Though the Greencards have had a lot of success the last three years on the festival circuit, this was their first Wintergrass.

"We really didn't know what to expect with it being indoors and in a hotel. It is kind of like IBMA, though much broader in musical styles," he said. "We've always had a great reception in the Northwest, and that has been true this weekend as well."

He said that festivals are rewarding both for the exposure and the opportunity to hear and play with other bands. As an example, at the workshop, up-and-coming instrumental star Sarah Jarosz, a friend of the band since its start in Austin, sat in to swap mandolin riffs with Warner on the Alison Krause song "Another Night."

Festival audiences will have plenty of opportunities to experience The Greencards featuring the new "Viridian" material. Among the band's 2007 festival stops are Strawberry Park, Wakarusa, Grass Valley, Grey Fox, Rockygrass, Sisters, Winfield and Joshua Tree.

1 comment:

Roger Moss said...

Just hosted a show by THE Greencards on 4/21/07. If you have not seen this amazing group live you are missing something. Not your mama's bluegrass band but these folks sure can play.

If you get a chance catch them when you can and you won't be disapointed.

Roger Moss,