These days the term “Bluegrass” encompasses a broad range of musical expressions. From the down home, gutsy realism of first-generation entertainers like Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs to the more refined sounds of Alison Krauss to the outer fringes of what is technically and musically possible and still retain some semblance of the core sound. It is indeed a broad genre that continues to give birth to new broods.
All that said, “A Town Called Normal,” in my opinion, does not fit into any honest, objective interpretation of Bluegrass music. Does it have a banjo on most cuts? Yes. Is there a mandolin? Sometimes. However, those characteristics alone do not a bluegrass band make.
There is a ton of music here, but not an ounce of genuine Bluegrass. There is absolutely no “drive,” no cohesive “bounce,” no emphasis on the downbeats. Even to the most liberal Bluegrass listener, the vocals have the wrong feel. There are drums on several cuts and that certain “tightness” we’ve come to expect from better Bluegrass groups never comes into focus…it never even comes into view.
These things are not necessarily bad, however. There is some good music here, as well as some excellent writing and Vincent Cross is a fantastic vocalist. He has a talent for choosing material that is well-suited for his vocal range and he knows how to sing with passion. Pieces like “Sometimes” seem like they could easily fit into a Pop/Folk Top 40 scenario. The overall feel on this project is like Bob Dylan meets Jimmy Buffet meets banjo, except Cross has a better voice than either one. It makes me wonder why he chose to use banjo, mandolin, acoustic bass, resonator-guitar, etc. as the instrumentation backdrop for this material. Personally, I’m thinking a string-orchestral sound with lots of bows creating the tension and mood would help establish a more rich presence, along with the gravitas and ambiance to properly accentuate his voice.
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