The Boston-based modern bluegrass quartet Della Mae received a Grammy nomination for their Rounder debut, 2013's This World Oft Can Be, their second album overall. The Del McCoury Band won it, but the nomination showed the size of the league that Della Mae plays in.
On this self-titled effort, they enlist veteran producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Norah Jones, Melissa Etheridge). Musically, they didn't need to do anything radically different -- and they don't, but there is a marked difference here. It can be attributed to the confidence that comes from playing together for six years. As a result, the songwriting and arranging have grown immensely. Adding Mark Schatz's upright bass on this date adds not only depth, but weight and emotional heft to these songs. On "Rude Awakening," his riff-like pulse adds a near rock & roll heaviness to the meld of country gospel, blues, and bluegrass. On "Can't Go Back," he plays arco, offering a harmonic and textural counterpart to Kimber Ludiker's fiddle and Jenni Lyn Gardner's chunky mandolin. Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Celia Woodsmith and lead guitarist/banjoist Courtney Hartman (who also sings harmony and takes the mike on the spooky "Long Shadow") wrote these two songs (and three others) together. They are a dynamite team, intuitively aware of how to balance the group's sense of melodic adventure with their instrumental prowess and startling collective singing. They also co-authored the swinging, bluesy "Shambles" and the straight-up bluegrass number "Take One Day." There are three covers on the set as well, among them a tender, wrenching version of the Low Anthem's "To Ohio" and a world-weary version of the Rolling Stones' "No Expectations" with great slide guitar work from Hartman. The closing number, "High Away Gone," though brief, contains some real experimentation with sound and texture -- the application of reverb, a skeletal banjo, droning musical saw (courtesy of Elephant Revival's Bonnie Paine), layered harmony vocals, and Woodsmith singing both the call-and-response parts -- and it's chilling. On this album, Della Mae expand their roots-and-groove quotient, and extend the margins in their writing without sacrificing either the virtuosity and sparkle in their performance or the root persona in their sound.