Some people might ask, “why review an album from 2012?” I’d give them four reasons. Number one, this is my site and I can do what I want. Number two, this segment is about things JamGrass.net recommends, and without this album JamGrass.net might not even exist. Number three, this site isn’t necessarily just aimed at the JamGrass aficionado but also seeks to bring new people to the artists we cover. Finally, number four: Classic by Larry Keel & Natural Bridge is one of my favorite albums of all time.
The opening track, “Love” includes a powerful guitar lead-in from Larry Keel and the second line of the song beckons us to “hit the road at a steady run,” which is precisely what Classic does. An aggressive mandolin break leads to a nice exchange with the banjo. The whole song is simply pure pleasure. The unassuming ending seems out of place in context with the song but leads perfectly into the second track, “Take the Time,” which includes some nice harmonizing work on the part of Jenny Keel, Mr. Keel’s wife and Natural Bridge bass player. The frantic pace of “Love” contrasts nicely with the Sunday-groove of “Take the Time,” creating a great one-two punch to start the album. The guitar break around the two-and-a-half minute mark reminds folks that Keel is not just a flat-picking speed master but can control the emotion of his instrument with mastery.
“I’m No Doctor” has lyrics that hint at the blues, while Keel’s voice – unique in bluegrass – seems more comfortable on Classic than on his previous albums. It’s as if he’s become more confident in how to apply his voice appropriately. “B-Funk” demonstrates the artists’ mastery of their respective instruments. It has a barn-burning melody followed by a syncopated pop, familiar in the band’s catalog but a bit unique in the context of bluegrass. It is a standout instrumental track and showcases the talents not simply of Mr. Keel but also of Mark Schimick on mandolin and Will Lee on banjo.
A personal favorite, “Back up on the Mountain” is a slower number that highlights the vocal interplay of Larry and Jenny Keel. The lyrics tell the story of a man contrasting his thoughts about his mountain-community roots as an adolescent versus the present-day. Of all the songs on the album it feels the most honest and passionate.
“County Blues” allows the artists to seriously demonstrate their blues chops and Keel to show off his notorious vocal growl and vibrato. The line “a pretty little girl to fry all my fish and love me til the day I die” is old-time gold, and although penned by Doc Boggs, feels like it was written for Mr. Keel.
Next up, the six-string lead-in on “Fishing Reel” is marvelous. The song will soon be featured in the new Confluence Films release, “Waypoints.” Several songs on the album reflect Keel’s passion about the third love of his life, fishing, of course preceded by his wife and his guitar.
“How Can it Be Wrong” was included on the excellent Songs From the Road Band album, As The Crow Flies. A standout in that setting, it doesn’t disappoint on Classic, either. Regardless of your political beliefs (the song is about a farmer growing marijuana to save his farm), the track is a standout and should be an anthem for long-haired, bluegrass-types everywhere. Its pairing with the groove of the reggae cover “Put It On” creates a nice compliment to the album, both tracks sure to be favorites for most listeners the first time through.
Classic closes with a combo nearly as flawless as its opening. The golden rule inspired “Do Unto Others” revisits themes from the first two songs of the album, encouraging love, appreciation, and kindness to others. Positive tones ring throughout the album. This is a feel-good listen, closed by “Goose Lake Dreams,” the bands ode to the fishing grounds that plays host to a festival they headline annually.
Although Larry Keel has an impressive catalog, Classic stands out as a work-of-art. Other albums have plainly demonstrated the proficiency of Mr. Keel and of the other featured musicians, but Classic is full of great songs by great songwriters. Buy it and listen to it until you have every wonderful moment memorized.
DON’T FORGET: Support JamGrass.net and Buy Larry Keel & Natural Bridge’s Classic at Amazon.com! Need more convincing? Check out the reviews below.
- BluegrassToday.com (presents a much smarter review than I’m capable of, saying the album “take(s) traditional values and infuse(s) them with modern perspectives, butt(s) the sacred up against the secular, unite(s) the hippies with the squares, the stoned with the sober, and mix(es) the simple with the complex to create a microcosm of the broad spectrum of American music, as well as the collective American psyche in 2012 and all the contradictions contained therein.”
- CyberGrass.com is also high on praise, stating “with Classic, Larry Keel and his band deliver one of the most powerful, expansive performances ever heard in Acoustic American music to date.”
- GratefulWeb.com says Larry and Jenny Keel are “too creative to be called authentic yet too precise to be lumped in with newgrass or jambands, their music is simply non-duplicable.”