Showing the close relation that existed between traditional country music and bluegrass at one time, this Alaska-based band has recently expanded to add drums and electric guitar to their sound. In so doing, they have recorded an album of twangy, tasty country built on the close-knit sound they had developed as an acoustic honky-tonk band with fiddle, double bass, acoustic guitar and their equally impressive vocal interaction. All this is present with the addition of some tasteful guitar playing and some subtle and effective percussion driving the songs.
What makes good country tends to be the combination of voice, song and playing ability. It is not about pushing the boundaries that were prevalent during the alt-country era, when the presence of a banjo or similar could define a song. What counts, at the end of the day, is the truth in the music. But to these ears, country music should sound like country, a recognisable sound in what is a pretty wide ranging aural palette; sound that is true to itself. Here, producers Todd Grebe and Mike Bub have made a warm, clean and fresh album. Bub is no stranger himself to bluegrass and Americana having played for many years with the Del McCoury Band.
The majority of the songs are written by Grebe and they deal with a day to day, down-to-earth reality and in some cases, romantic fantasy. There is regret, realisation and reminiscing. There are great songs dealing with all three components like Here’s Wishing To You, Luckiest Man Here On Earth and More Than a Love Song. On another tack the opening song, Criminal Style, takes the stance the man loves his intended so much that if she murdered someone he would help find a place to hide the body - a laudable sentiment perhaps if not one easily condoned as a token of one’s love. This is top notch (music) from any aspect. It is further enhanced by the presence of guests Steve Hinson on some telling pedal steel, Jimmy Wallace on keyboards and Megan McCormick on additional guitar; on the impressive closing track, You’ll Never Find Me, John Paul is on trumpet. This is not to forget Grebe’s lead vocals, which have a depth and diversity that is impressive throughout.
Husband and wife Grebe and Angela Oudean (who also sings finely judged harmonies) are at the centre of this fine band which lives in Anchorage and plays on the Alaskan circuit. They deserve wider recognition for having produced such a rewarding album, one that ticks all the boxes, representing a misplaced genre that has, in the mainstream, all too often lost its soul and identity. Music needs to progress and not simply repeat itself. However this needs to be done with integrity and by writing songs that have a relevance to a contemporary audience while recognising what the music’s varied roots are. This album was recorded in Nashville but has little to do with the notion of what that city currently represents. However, there are and always has been believers who exist in pockets all of the world, who will not let this music fall into oblivion. Todd Grebe & Cold Country are just one of many but they, on this showing, are one of the best.