Hailing from Nashville, Harpeth Rising’s close harmony quartet are made up of claw-hammer banjo player Rebecca Reed-Lunn, cellist Maria Di Meglio and percussionist Chris Burgess with lead vocals and fiddle by Jordanna Greenberg, daughter of singer-songwriter David with whom she co-penned four of the numbers here as well as contributing to all but one of the others.
Their fourth album in as many years, they’re a string band whose sound embraces bluegrass, folk, blues, vaudeville and swing, firmly entrenched in a sepia brown hue of musical nostalgia, but delivered with a fresh, and often furious, vigour.
Tales From Jackson Bridge opens with the frisky Wheelhouse, a lyrically caustic number that showcases the deft interplay between Greenberg and Reed-Lunn, the album offers a mix of vocal and instrumental tracks and songs that variously deal with relationship dynamics, social politics and protest. The latter’s particularly well addressed in Four Days More, an urgent jazzy-folk number with a martial rhythm and countdown lyric that builds a sense of threat and tension. By contrast, carried long on bubbling banjo, It Don’t Really Matter takes a more tongue in cheek approach to its politics, the elder Greenberg’s playful lyrics including the line “I went down to Walmart where the Wally Martians are” while the firmly folk inclined The Sparrow, another of David’s lyrics, deals with spiritual crisis and the relationship between society and the individual.
His daughter’s not short of her quota of darkness either, Day After Day, with its pizzicato strings, is about being resigned to circumstance while praying things might one day change, in towns where religion and whisky are the only things that keep you going. At least the sparse jazzy, gospel-tinged sultriness of Burn Away Your Troubles, which features plucked cello, has a marginally greater degree of optimism.
There’s two instrumentals, the first being Eris which opens on a sedate note that underlines the quartet’s classical training before exploding into fiery gypsy jazz fiddling and an almost flamenco rhythms. The second, and a track that heads up a final triple whammy, is an arrangement of the traditional House Of The Rising Sun, although, with its extended, slow paced banjo introduction, it takes a while to reveal itself, the familiar melody making an appearance in yet another superb gypsy jazz violin showcase by Greenberg, gathering pace towards the climax and still conveying the song’s overwhelming sense of isolation and hurt.
Then comes Goin’ My Way, a bluesy roots-rock rework of a David Greenberg song that appeared on their previous album, with Jordanna in gritty form, punchy bowed cello and Rebecca providing the song’s backbone and suggesting what Led Zep might have sounded like had John Paul Jones played banjo rather than bass. The album closes with another father-daughter composition, Ghost Factory, a lament for the soulless nine to five grind and the most ‘folky’ number in the set, which begins as an acoustic waltz that calls Cohen to mind before shifting to a robust uptempo climax with the violin shrilling over Burgess’s steady beat and the nervy banjo.
The band take their name from the fast flowing, powerful tributary of Tennessee’s Cumberland River. Like that, this album is in full flood.
Review by: Mike Davies
UK Tour Dates
11 – (matinee) – Bath: American Museum
11 – Leicester: The Musician
12 – Birmingham: Kitchen Garden Cafe
13 – Lowdham: The Old Ship Inn
15 – Beverley: Beverley Folk & Blues Club
17 – Barnard Castle: Witham Hall
Released on Grimm Rising, out now