Dirty River - Graveyard Train

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Local and regional bluegrass bands often feel tension between the desire to attract an audience by playing familiar cover songs and the creative impulse to come up with a fresh and identifiable sound. Lean too far toward the former and the band winds up undistinguished, lacking any real identity, while straying too far the other direction can lead the band away from the general bluegrass audience. Dirty River, based in the Washington, D.C., area, has done a fine job of balancing those conflicting pressures on Graveyard Train.

The band reflects the progressive tradition of bluegrass music in the Washington area forged by the Country Gentlemen, the Seldom Scene, Cliff Waldron, and many others. Graveyard Train features a nicely balanced mix of original tunes, along with the familiar bluegrass classics “Deep Elem Blues” and “Cherokee Shuffle” and some tunes imported from outside the genre, but adapted well to bluegrass. The Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman” is a bit of a novelty, but Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” makes a dandy, harddriving bluegrass tune.

Five of the fourteen songs are original material from bandmembers Billy Park and Evan Sands, and resonator guitar player Michael Barton also contributes a couple of nice instrumentals. The material is topnotch and well-suited to the band’s style. While the band doesn’t feature the strongest of vocals (lead singers on individual tracks are not identified), the skillful performances reflect a lot of intelligent consideration to arrangements and delivery.

Dirty River is a band that bears watching in the future and Graveyard Train is a strong debut recording well worth making an effort to track down. (Dirty River, 531 Brent Rd., Rockville, MD 20850, www.dirtyriverdc.com.) AWIII