When looking back at the development of the subgenre of newgrass music, what distinguished trend-setting bands such as Newgrass Revival and Skyline were the presence of a strong lead vocalist to match collective outstanding instrumental skills, a body of distinctive and unique material, and a collective ear for fine arranging.
Fitzmaurice displays all of these strengths on what turns out to be, amazingly enough, their debut recording. They’re fronted by the powerful and souldful lead vocals of Maria Fitzmaurice, who channels her apparent rock and blues influences quite well into the band’s progressively grassy style. But the two bandmembers who step out for solo turns, Sarah Fitzmaurice (apparently Maria’s twin sister) and mandolinist Brandon Snellings (oddly enough, the remaining bandmembers’ last names are not listed either on their CD packaging or on their Web site bio!!) match Maria note for note.
Except for a straight-ahead and effective cover of Ralph Stanley’s “Gonna Paint The Town,” the album features all originals, going beyond the tribulations of romance to cover such topics as the moving ballad of a homesick soldier (“Barely A Man”) and the prisoner’s lament “25 Years.” The banjo and fiddle of, respectively, Mike Simms and Aaron Malone are clean and effective but always work within the arrangement to serve the song, even when stretching out on the CD’s two instrumentals, “Annie Kay” and “Tumbledown.”
Traditionalists may not like the occasional presence of piano and drums, but both are used sparingly and softly within the context of the sound Fitzmaurice is trying to achieve. This is a group with ability, style, and originality that are absolutely astonishing for being so new. They’re definitely worth keeping an eye on, and one can only hope that they stay together long enough to carve out their own niche in newgrass music. (E-mail: email@example.com, www.fitzmauriceband.com.) HK