Free Range Pickin'

Free Range Pickin'

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Minneapolis bluegrass band Free Range Pickin' write their own original material (seven songs here by mandolinist Steve Schley, four by banjoist Tony Ihrig), which makes the group less a traditional outfit than a singer/songwriter unit that happens to play in bluegrass style. In practice, however, the songs usually are structures with relatively brief lyrics that serve as platforms for the picking ("Pastor Flaps" is even an instrumental that is mainly a showcase for bassist Dan Christensen). An exception is Schley's plaintive and sentimental ballad "So Simple," which demonstrates that this ensemble is better off keeping things fast and light. As the band's name punningly implies, the playing heard here roams adventurously. The group, consisting of two brothers and their friends from childhood, displays considerable interaction, with each part, even when comping, coming through clearly in the arrangements. For the most part, the band holds down the soloing in tracks that stay under five minutes, except for "What a Place," which runs on for seven and a half minutes and suggests what these guys can do in concert. (It's not speed that impresses here, it's the interplay among musicians who clearly listen carefully to each other.) This second album by Free Range Pickin' (following 2002's From the Other Side of the Fence) really functions as a commercial for that live show, and it implies that the band may be even better when given a chance to stretch out and play.

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