There’s Prog Rock and now there’s Newgrass: Punch Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops and The Cranberries Take Traditional Music To Untraditional Places

Bluegrass and old-time traditional folk or string band music isn’t exactly mainstream these days, but acts like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Band Perry and The Civil Wars have received major exposure on the Grammy Awards in recent years and that’s a good thing.  This week I stumbled upon two really interesting albums of what you might call modern bluegrass music as well as a new release from one of the best pop-rock/folk acts of the ‘90’s. 

Worth Another Listen – Have you ever wondered what Radiohead or Wilco would sound like as a bluegrass band?  If you have, then take a listen to Punch Brothers and their self-described ‘newgrass’ style of music.  Combining mandolin, banjo, fiddle, bass and guitar played prolifically with Thom Yorke-esque soundscapes and vocals, Punch Brothers bends the rules of American bluegrass music to create something completely new and almost indescribable.  Even if you don’t like the traditional form of this music, you can’t help but be excited by what the band is doing on their latest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now. Must Have Track: With its catchy melody and beautiful harmonies, ‘This Girl’, sounds like the Beach Boys joined a jug band.

Worth Another Listen – Another great find this week is the latest release from Carolina Chocolate Drops, the 2011 Grammy Award winners for Best Traditional Folk Album.  A little more traditional and definitely bluesier than the Punch Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops gained notoriety for also performing bluegrass versions of modern tracks, such as Blu Cantrell’s R&B hit “Hit ’em Up Style”.  Their latest effort is titled Leaving Eden and it combines the old with the new as banjo-based tracks are accented with beat-boxing which makes a very traditional sound seem like a fresh new sound.  Must Have Track: ‘Country Girl’ is a North Carolina bluegrass version of a Beyoncé girl power manifesto.

Worth Another Listen – If you attended university or college in the mid-1990`s then you probably remember The Cranberries – arguably one of Ireland`s top-5 music exports (U2, Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy and The Pogues would round out the rest of that list).  I can remember writing essays on my old Macintosh Classic while the haunting vocals of Dolores O`Riordan echoed in the background (Zombie Zombie eh eh eh…).  The band broke big in North America right in the middle of the grunge era with a slightly more jangly/folky sound then their Seattle counterparts.  After a string of hits, including ‘Linger’, ‘Zombie’ and ‘Ode To My Family’ spread across two top-10 albums The Cranberries all but disappeared in the 2000’s.  Following a lengthy hiatus, the band returned to touring in 2009, and has delivered their first album of new material in more than a decade.  Roses finds The Cranberries back doing what they do best – combining O’Riordan’s haunting vocal style with melodic pop songs and folk lyrics. Interestingly, the album was recorded in Toronto and O’Riordan has actually relocated her family to a rural community just north of Peterborough, Ontario.  Must Have Track: The first single, ‘Tomorrow’, sounds like the follow-up to ‘Ode’ and would have been a major hit if this was 1994.

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