The Benders

The Benders

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The Massachusetts combo the Benders has chosen a name that attracts confusion with a variety of other bands, none of which sport a traditional bluegrass instrumentation. Nonetheless, there is an Australian rock band with exactly the same name and several more single-minded Bender bands. Naming people with the last name Bender isn't fair, but the huge number of bands that claim to bend things is worth mentioning, from the Halo Benders to the Fender Benders. Musically, the band that is under discussion here is affiliated with a range of styles that at least in terms of historical placement seems much more vast than the number of times the name the Benders has been typeset across a cover. All of it is the type of thing that has been wrapped in the new millennium cloak of alternative country, which in the long run seems to mean some people are listening to country as an alternative to everything else. "Banjo in the Rain" is a track that could have been recorded in the lobby of a hotel in Asheville by a '20s talent scout; it is pure oldtime beauty, the adoration for the banjo expressed in the lyrics more a philosophical certainty than a sentimental notion. Other material on the 2002 release harks back not quite so far, say the '80s and the Eagles, who might have recorded a song such as "Highway Eyes" and gotten the Dobro on Top 40 radio to boot. Tim Kelly plays the latter instrument in this group, sliding in with a bit of zip whenever the energy begins to subside and sometimes at points when it would have been better not to. Mandolin, guitar, banjo, and bass complete the instrumental picture, all recorded in a semicircle standing around a pair of microphones. The recording technique and the ability to pull it off are commendable, although it would be reaching to suggest that even the best of these tracks have the transcendent nature of a vintage recording. What is missing is something in the nature of substance, though while the material is rarely mediocre it also won't quite bowl the listener over. The main songwriters are guitarist John Bayer and banjo player Bow Thayer, their names challenging a critic to lapse into rhyming appraisal of their contributions: "It seems that Thayer/Might be a better songwriter than Bayer/ But arrive at the part of the CD where/Five of the former's ditties are there/Feel quite stifled, breathing this songwriter's aire." When it comes to Thayer's banjo playing, though, it has to be said that this is an aspect that makes this recording incredibly appealing. It would be irrelevant to compare this to the appeal of the famous masters in bluegrass and oldtime, as an independent CD such as this is bound not to get great distribution regardless of how great it could be. This group and the musicians in it have great promise, however, and could be up to great things as time goes on. The final track in the program is a joke that wouldn't really merit mentioning other than to warn radio programmers that it has some doo-doo words in it.

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