The Waybacks

Devolver

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Is it bluegrass? newgrass? folk? jazz? Yep. And it's terrifyingly brilliant. The debut CD from San Francisco-based the Waybacks delivers everything you could desire in an acoustic album: insanely hot picking, soaring fiddle, great harmonies, and a perfect blend of styles and tempos, covers and originals. One of the first things that hits you between the ears here is the guitar playing of James Nash, although you'd be hard-pressed to choose the top dog in this pack. Nash and Wayne Jacques (mandolin) sound as one as they pull off a dual lead on Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From the Apple," bebopping their way through a tune recorded by everyone from Sonny Stitt to Bobby McFerrin. Jacques also doubles on fiddle, and shreds it to smithereens on "Lickkus Interruptus" (too funny), the bright and energetic opening track with playing that is as fluid as anything you'll hear from Mark O'Connor, Sam Bush, and the like. "Been Around" and "Compadres in the Old Sierra Madre" feature delightful harmonies, the foremost a catchy, masterful original written by Nash; the latter a well-chosen Riders in the Sky tune. Keeping in line with their knack for selecting cool covers, the boys tackle "The Last Steam Engine Train," a song recorded by both its originator, John Fahey, and Leo Kottke. Here's your chance to see what an entire band can do with it. Nash pulls out a slide for this one and Stevie Coyle keeps it driving forward on finger-style guitar, at one point turning the lead over to Jacques on fiddle. The Waybacks are not bluegrass purists, to be sure, but they know that every proper bluegrass-inflected album must contain at least one waltz -- and Kenny Baker's "McHattie's Waltz" satisfies that requirement in fine fashion. Scotsman Artie Fisher's ballad "The Witch of the Westmereland" is arguably the brightest gem on this recording. It's beautiful, lilting melody and plaintive vocal reading from Coyle result in recurrent grasps for the volume knob. The Waybacks bring it all home by plugging in for Jacques' wild 'n' woolly arrangement of the traditional song "Cluck Old Hen." (But don't miss the uproarious hidden track!) The musicianship here is absolutely top drawer. Devolver can easily stand repeated listenings -- many of them. It is a treasure that no serious music lover should be without.

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