Album Review of

Written by Joe Ross
August 1, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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The music of the Greasy Beans is pretty slick, but I sure wish they would've lubricated their songs with a little fiddle or dobro also. If bands are going to choose a bluegrass format for their original acoustic music, then go all the way. Get down! Get glaborous! Now I have nothing against the fine, smooth picking of Josh Haddix (guitar), Charley Brophy (mandolin), Danny Barnes (banjo), and Keith Lowe (bass). I just hear their greasy music more enhanced with some hot, slippery resophonic guitar or slimy fiddle. Maybe they could've called on a former bean, Cailen Campbell on fiddle. Charles Brophey's old-timey instrumental "Betty Jane's Mule" just brays for this kind of embellishment. Although not credited as such, I wonder if that is Haddix and not Barnes who is frailing the banjo on this one as I understand that Josh is a pretty decent clawhammer banjo player. 

Songs on the 38-minute proejct include: Cain and Abel, Country Song, Busted, Betty Jane's Mule, Good Bye My Love, On My Mind, Just The Other Day, Don't Know If I'll Stand the Pain, Hey Senorita, Raleigh Dormin (Lament For Pete), Truly True. While all the band members are credited with vocals, liner notes don't identify who is singing when. The most prominent lead singer displays plenty of melancholy. If you don't mind a few wavering notes, then a solo songs like "Good Bye My Love" and "Truly True" are wistfuly expressive. Their gifted tunesmith friend, Scott McAleer, had a hand in writing these two, as well as three other, songs. Personally, I found more vocal radiance from the Greasy Beans in their carefully cultivated "On My Mind" and "Cain and Abel" with their straighter and narrower bluegrass sensibilities. Jenny Benford also appears as a guest vocalist, my guess as a harmony singer on "Just the Other Day." 

"Busted" is this touring band's third album, following their "Real Live Music" project that was engineered by Grammy-winning producer Bil VornDick. "Busted" was produced by Danny Barnes and recorded by Garey Shelton in Seattle, Wa. The band's strength is their emphasis on original compositions. In the 2-chord opening ballad, "Cain and Abel," Cain kills Abel with a .44 gun. I could hear the Nashville Bluegrass Band covering a tune like that. At track three, the title number written by Ty Gilpin is a bluesy tale about wearing out the old highway to get one's baby back. 

They also convey a type of vocalizing that is also kind of appealing as a result of its very lack of polish. The core of the band, Haddix and Brophey, have picked together for 12 years since they formed on the campus of Warren Wilson College. I enjoyed their breezy jaunts through midtempo arrangements that share guitar and mandolin passages. Spare setting can lend more immediacy to story songs like "Hey Senorita." Besides touring, the Greasy Beans have also performed several seasons of traditional music with ballet as part of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's "Under Southern Skies: An Exploration and Celebration of the South" in collaboration with North Carolina Dance Theater. Greasy Beans are prominently featured in a piece entitled "Shindig." Currently touring with Greasy Beans are Brad Hutchison (banjo) and David Brown (bass). 

Greasy Beans might tell us that they want their music to be left more organic. But I would counter that it will be around longer, be more accessible, and make more of an impact with a few preservatives. The band from the mountains of Asheville, N.C. shows some clear potential, and I'd just like to see them package their music with some more coloring and spirited and rootsy old-time spunk. While they like taking bluegrass down roads less traveled, I think they're on to a good thing. Just as when they were matched with ballet, the band gives us an "alt-grass" product that presents considerable fascination and intrigue. (Joe Ross)