Pert Near Sandstone: Out on a Spree
Although Pert Near Sandstone like to call themselves a "new-timey" string band, there's obviously a significant old-timey component to the local quartet's amalgamation of vintage country, folk, and bluegrass. Newgrass, along with sly slivers of pop, rock, jazz, and even klezmer inevitably seep through Sandstone, as well as occasional reflections on contemporary events via the lyrics, all contributing to the newness factor. But on their fourth album, Out on a Spree, the Perts reverse course and go the old-timey route whole hog, covering more than a dozen traditional songs picked up in travels across the country, from other musicians or ancient recordings. There's stuff familiar to even the most casual fans ("Liza Jane," "John Henry," "Stay All Night") and from well-known musicians (Charlie Poole's "Goodbye Booze") as well as cool obscurities with intriguing lineages. The final group includes a charming fiddle tune, "Last of Callahan," that Nate Sipe plays with surprising sprightliness considering its origin: Its author allegedly played it while sitting on his coffin, then smashed his fiddle, moments before being strung up on the gallows.
What gives these wizened nuggets the Sandstone spin is the exuberance with which they're played, which both harkens back to the live performances of generations of musicians and firmly places them in these punk-aware, frenetic times. Kevin Kniebel's banjo, J. Lenz's guitar, Sipe's fiddle, and Jeff Swanner's upright bass take up the rousing chase of their musical ancestors with the right touch of speed and precision, but there's also something about how they clip their phrases that's especially contemporary. And that goes especially for the vocals, which are mainly led by Kniebel, but include lots of raucous harmonies and gloriously ragged vocal chases, such as on the Poole tune, greatly enhancing their rollicking, careening nature.
Plus, the Pert boys can't resist twisting some of the lyrics for a few modern laughs: Poole, thanks to Sipe, finds himself lamenting that his girlfriend has been smoking his dope and crashed his truck. And that steel-drivin' man, John Henry, seems to have added welding to his repertoire. Which proves that despite their age, these tunes are still very much alive and picking up fresh inspiration thanks to bands like Pert Near Sandstone, whose members don't worry too much about whether times are new or old, as long as they're good.
PERT NEAR SANDSTONE will perform with Spider John Koerner this SATURDAY, JANUARY 16, at the CEDAR; 612.338.2674
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