What is SeMi Bluegrass? It's a meeting place where live music fans in Southeast Michigan gather to exchange information about the live music scene: show reviews, cool venues, band profiles, product reviews and more.
Articles, news, reviews and band profiles welcome.
Email to: SeMiBluegrass@gmail.com

If you're looking for the South East Michigan Bluegrass Music Association (A fine group of Bluegrass fans in South East Michigan) you can find them at http://smbluegrass.org/

Friday, March 11, 2016

How About Some Thrashgrass with the Native Howl?

Great New Album from the Native Howl
 Readers of this blog will know I love The Native Howl and their eclectic and eccentric mix of acoustic Americana and Metal-influenced rock and roll.  Thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of promoter Don Kanners of Music Movers LLC, a lot more of you have had the opportunity to see them play--from live appearances at Arts, Beats and Eats the the Winter Blast in Campus Martius to appearances with Ann Delisi on WDET, Mitch Albom on WJR and multiple morning new appearances like this jewel from WDIV. 

What most people don't know about the Howl, is that front-man Alex Holycross and partner Jake Sawicki are serious fans of both traditional and progressive bluegrass.  While Alex has contributed some banjo parts on previous projects, it is Sawicki who has thrown himself wholeheartedly into the learning the 3-finger Scruggs style and now chooses to play the banjo far more often than the guitar in their live appearances.  Similarly, while Holycross is a fine guitar player, and his frenetic hearvy metal licks on acoustic and resonator guitars defined the early Native Howl sound, he now often chooses the rarely seen bouzouki as his weapon of choice (think of a mandolin tuned a full octave lower, with paired octave strings on the lowest two courses and a sound somewhere between the mando and 12-string guitar).  Alex is equally versed in playing traditional bluegrass mandolin licks and deathmetal thrashing on his instrument.  This Bouzouki/Banjo combination has forged a unique new bluegrass/metal fusion that the band is calling "Thrash Grass".  The 5-song EP dropped today and it is outstanding!
Sawicki, Holycross, Chandler and LeMieux--The Native Howl

Leading off the EP is the thrashiest track "Thunderhead".  Propelled forward at warp speed by finger-blurring banjo licks from  Sawicki and an accelerator mashing rhythm line from drummer Joshua LeMieux and new Bassist Mark Chandler, the song is the perfect vehicle for Holycross' dark metal vocals metaphorically comparing the band to pistol-packing, thunder headed horsemen.  Shred-worthy guitar licks fill our the song and provide all of and angst and bravodo this is pure Motor City Grit Metal tune could hope to have. 

My favorite track is "Doomed From the Start".  With definite roots in traditional bluegrass, this ode to mortality and whisky drinking features a fairly straight forward "One Five" bass line and the bouzouki/banjo melody.  LeMieux does a great job interpreting the bluegrass guitar "Boom Chucka" rhythm.  It would be easy for this song fall into the hokey/simplistic category, but the band uses an unexpected minor chord in the chorus that gives it just the right amount of novelty.  Recently, Alex and Jake made a trip to my place for my monthly "SemiBluegrass" jam and played this for a large crowd of bluegrass jammers ranging from tweinty-somethings to octogenarians.  It was definitely one of the highlights of the night!

"Follow Me" lets the band stretch out their vocal talents with a complex four-part harmony with an unexpected and luscious bass part added to the chorus layered under powerful lead-tenor-baritone pre-chorus.  The song also features Holycross at his best on the bouzouki and Sawicki's iconic sorrowful high-tenor vocals lending the song almost a Renaissance-era vibe (well...if an 80s hair metal band were magically transported to the 1500s).

Not really a track, "Interlude" is a short, 3-part harmony, A Capella number overlaid with a scratchy record effect to give it some age.  A throwaway, but fun.

The longest track on the EP, "Hurricane" is a well structured exploration of the Thrash Grass idea with a variety of instruments, killer vocal harmonies, multiple tempo and mood changes and some interesting and exotic melodies.  I know the boys in the band are not only passionate about music, but devoted students as well, so I expect this is due to some experimentation with scale modes, chord voicing and some World-music influences.  In some ways this reminds me of the classic Rush album "2112" (in the sound, not the content).   It gets better every time I listen to it.

So, should you buy the EP?  Most definitely!  In fact, I downloaded it from Amazon today (for the low, low price of $4.95).  You can also download it from the bands website   Will they send physical CDs to CDBaby?  I hope so, because their "your CD has shipped" email is EPIC!  Or...better yet...go see them live and buy a physical copy from the band.  The album art alone will be worth the price and you get to see all the head-thrashing, girls dancing, music thundering, live-in-the-moment awesomeness that is a Howl show.
Get your copy today!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your source for information about the Southeast Michigan (SeMi) Live Music Scene. News, Venues, Reviews...a community about us, for us and by us. Please consider contributing an article: semibluegrass@gmail.com