In 2000, Sid Griffin temporarily shifted his band the Coal Porters over to an acoustic lineup, and it turned out to be one of the best things to happen to the group; while it took the Porters a while to find their footing without amplification, Griffin's decision to stick with the bluegrass-influenced sound has ultimately paid off, and the fifth album from the acoustic Coal Porters, Find the One, features the group's strongest lineup yet. Griffin on mandolin and vocals, Neil Robert Herd on guitar and vocals, and Carly Frey on fiddle and vocals are joined here by John Breese on banjo and Tali Trow on bass, and in the studio this group sounds natural and fluid, the interplay between the musicians is tight yet playful with a keen sense of dynamics, and this quintet had learned the lessons of bluegrass history while embracing a style that gracefully splits the difference between string band traditions and contemporary songcraft. In terms of performances, Find the One is the best studio effort from the Coal Porters since they set aside their electric guitars, and producer John Wood has given the music an admirably clear but honest sound, open and well-detailed. And the best songs are splendid, particularly the breezy opener "Barefoot on the Courthouse Lawn," the tense tale of runaway slaves "Hush U Babe" (with guest guitarist Richard Thompson), the upbeat love story "Ask Me Again," and the less cheerful breakup stories "Red-Eyed and Blue" and "Never Right His Wrong." However, while Neil Robert Herd's skills as a songwriter have improved since he first began bringing material to the group, as a vocalist he's still significantly less compelling than Griffin, and it's significant that the Herd copyright that fares best is the one on which he lets Frey take the lead vocal. And though the bluegrass cover of David Bowie's "'Heroes" has its moments, the closing take on the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" is a misfire. With each album, the Coal Porters get stronger and more enjoyable in fundamental ways, but their flaws tend to shift about a bit, and Find the One shows they're great at what they do, but they still haven't made a record that's the home run they're capable of (though fans of the acoustic side of Americana will still find it well worth their time).
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming