Album Review of
Live at the Spitting Llamas Bluegrass Bar

Written by Joe Ross
April 1, 2014 - 12:00am EDT
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Neither recorded "live" or in a bar, this album is a varied and richly rewarding project that introduces The Brombies, a Los Angeles group that features Jo Ellen Doering (guitar, vocals), George Doering (mandolin, vocals), Doug Livingston (dobro) and Pete Harrison (bass). Guest fiddler Gabe Witcher appears on over half of the tracks. Jo Ellen and George have been making music together for over 25 years, and their first band was formed in 1989.

The Brombies give us 15 exhilarating contemporary originals that were inspired by the bluegrass of Bill Monroe, Stanley Bros., Flatt & Scruggs, and others. Songs on the 43-minue project include: 1. We're Findin' Our Way Back Home, 2. Anywhere Is Home When You're With Me, 3. Little, Bitty Piece of God, 4. Midnight Blues, 5. I Call Him Honey, 6. Water Into Wine, 7. Bar-b-que, 8. Reprise/We're Findin' Our Way Back Home, 9. It's Better to Have Loved & Lost, 10. Mcphearson's Reel, 11. Restin' in Your Arms, 12. Escondido, 13. For My True Love, 14. Closer to the Throne, 15. Reprise/We're Findin' Our Way Back Home

There's no denying the excitement on the bluegrass-flavored "Anywhere Is Home When You're With Me" and "For My True Love." Both could have been enhanced with some banjo. Since recording this album, they have informed me that there is now a banjo player in the band. The Brombies sing their gospel numbers like "Water into Wine" and "Closer to the Throne" with truth, never losing sight of faith, hope and "everlasting eternity." They create love songs with many moods. The Doerings evoke shades of the Louvin Brothers with an original like "It's Better to Have Loved and Lost." "For My True Love" is one for all their nieces and nephews. "Anywhere is Home When You're With Me" emphasizes the "sweet harmony" they sing together. "I Call Him Honey" is a touching and loving message between Jo Ellen and George, known to each other as "honey" and "sweetie pie."

In a similar vein, "Restin' in Your Arms" is a simple, conversational sentimental statement of romanticism. "Bar-B-Que" is a clever novelty tune with a lilting melody that doesn't seem to suffer from the band's absence of five-string banjo. Two of the songs, "We're Finding Our Way" and "Little Bitty Piece of God," were chosen for performance at the 2005 IBMA Songwriters' Showcase. The only instrumental offering, "McPhearson's Reel," was written for the sound track of a documentary called "Adventures of the Old West." Being from California gives the group the freedom and license to explore other genres such as slow swing ("I Call Him Honey"), and even something as disparate as Mexican Mariachi sounds ("Escondido") showcasing the Doering Clan Fiddles (Susan, Michael and Mark Doering).

I enjoyed The Brombies' album for three primary reasons. First, they create a friendly and relaxed sparkle with their original music. Secondly, while their bluegrass foundation on the CD is without banjo and only highlights vocal duets, their sheer creative audacity is typically crafty californian. They build upon their band's strengths, arrangements, and their own enlightened perspective. Finally, their messages are uplifting, and occasionally humorous, expressions of affirmation and romanticism. The Brombies have an ingenious design and vision for their music. They play many festivals in southern California and the IBMA festivities regularly. Perhaps we'll see them again as part of the songwriters' showcase there. (Joe Ross)