The Greenbeans self-titled debut album is an amalgam of so many different musical elements it’s a tough choice as to where to begin. Let’s start with who they are, two brothers, Vinny and Joe Ferris from upstate New York, and I mean really upstate, their home town is far closer to Montreal than New York City. Their grandmother, a relatively recent (1950s) immigrant from Ireland, brought with her a love of Celtic music and she made sure it was passed on to the family. Layer onto that all the musical influences two lads growing up in late twentieth century small town America absorb – pop, rock, blues, folk, country, bluegrass, a bit of jazz and you get a sense of the melting pot that has produced The Greenbeans. Sure, theirs is by no means a unique mix of circumstances but Vinny and Joe possess musical talents and song writing sensibilities that have enabled them to forge a style that is fresh, memorable and, above all, recognisably their own.
The ten tracks of the album are all original compositions with the brothers sharing the writing credits. They also share the vocals and, between them, play guitars, mandolin, banjo and harmonica. The album came out of Old Soul Studios, a self-styled state-of-the-art studio space in Catskill, NY, operated by Kenny and Gwen Snyder Siegal. Kenny, as well as producing the album, contributed electric bass, piano, organ and lap steel to various tracks and Gwen, along with Marco Benevento, added accordion. Drums and most percussion came from the super experienced Otto Hauser, another upstate resident, and Nina Violet, a regular at Old Soul, added vocals, fiddle and string arrangements. The impression grows that The Greenbeans have added their extensive talents to an already thriving centre of roots music excellence.
The album opens with the irrepressibly cheery Down the Road, lots of banjo and fiddle, decidedly more Country than Celtic, and a snappy chorus that makes it almost impossible not to join in. The recorded track barely makes 2 minutes but it’s a song that begs to be given a lengthy festival sing along treatment. Short, catchy songs are something of a Greenbeans trademark, five of the tracks are less than three and half minutes long, the rather old fashioned three minute pop single concept is one that the brothers enthusiastically embrace. They’re also happy to tread on that familiar ground with their lyrics, what could be more redolent of 60s pop than track 2, Girlfriend From High School, with its refrain, I want you back, baby? But it would have taken a brave pop producer to start such a track with solo banjo, then combine it with mandolin and accordion as mainstays of the arrangement.
The brothers have distinctively different voices, though I’m not entirely confident which is which, the cover details being a bit brief! So, apologies if this is the wrong way round when I say that Joe’s voice is harder edged and ideal for songs such as Down the Road whilst Vinny’s has softer tones, well suited to their slower more lyrical songs. However, these differing qualities don’t prevent them blending together well when singing harmonies and Vinny’s voice also duets very effectively with Nina Violet’s, especially on Sword in the Stone.
The Greenbeans are clearly proud of their Irish background and use those influences, along with ones from much closer to their American home, to good effect, creating a sound that is immediately engaging but with lyrics and instrumentation that repay closer listening.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
The Greenbeans is Out Now