Monogram - Hit The Road

MONOGRAM
HIT THE ROAD
No Label
No Number

As we all struggle to learn the finer points of playing and singing bluegrass, while listening to the older masters and their original recordings, it’s useful to remember the challenges faced by those international pickers for whom English is a second language and bluegrass culture is an ocean away. But, more and more fine bands, such as the quartet Monogram from the Czech Republic, are making some amazing recordings.

Singing in slightly accented English and writing an impressive array of mostly original material, Monogram has assembled an excellent new album. They’re eclectic and modern, with folky, funky, and modern influences emerging upon occasion, but they can also handle harddriving songs like the CD’s title track.

Instrumentally, they’re impeccable. While the three instrumental tracks allow banjoist Jaromir Jahoda, mandolinist Zdenek Jahoda, and guitarist Jakub Racek to stretch out and show off their considerable chops, each song also displays a thoughtful and imaginative approach to arrangement. Racek is the lead singer, but the whole band, including bassist Pavel Lzicar, contributes very tight and smooth harmonies. The band has been together for well over a decade, and it’s clear from their polish and attention to detail that these folks are committed to their music.

Aside from their cover of “Carried Away” (a hit for George Strait), their originals cover a wide and ambitious range, thematically and stylistically. There’s an occasional lapse into cliché that strikes a false note, particularly on “Whatever I Do.” But mostly, songs such as “Cure For You” and “Nelly And John” tell moving stories very effectively.

Monogram has some good original music that deserves international recognition. It would be beneficial to bluegrass music for them to get exposure to a broader audience. (U Sparty 12, Prague 7, 170 00, Czech Republic, www.monogram.cz.) HK