At a time where there appears to be scores of young bands attempting to reinvent, rehash and/or repackage roots music, The Greencards manage to distinguish themselves from their contemporaries in several memorable ways. First and most obviously, the group, now based out of Austin, Texas, features the work of three musicians whose geographical backgrounds might look as if to be in direct conflict with their chosen musical idiom. While by now it must, to the band, appear a foregone conclusion that each reviewer who appraises their work mention their countries of origin, it is worth noting that nothing even remotely disingenuous results from Carol Young, Kym Warner (both Australians) and Eamon McLaughlin (a Briton) collaborating on music that can be labeled, in most instances, as belonging to the Americana family tree. The group is comfortable in their musical skin and display a very natural ability to fluently and articulately communicate through their style of art.
Additionally, The Greencards employ a gentle, fluid method on each of the twelve tracks contained on Viridian . Whether waltzing through a tender ballad or hitting all the right musical and stylistic notes on a Celtic-flavored instrumental with ease, the band never overplays or overemphasizes any of their material, though each musician has the chops necessary to show off if they so desired. Instead, the trio prefers to allow the understated beauty of their arrangements to do the talking.
All of these factors have coalesced into an engaging approach and it seems the right people are taking notice. The band’s press material features praise from artists such as Buddy Miller and Roseanne Cash and one of the group’s most notable achievements came when they secured a slot opening for Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson on a past tour of minor league baseball stadiums. Also, the group was named Best New Band by the Austin Music Awards in 2004 and earned a nod last year for New/Emerging Artist of the Year from the Americana Music Association Awards. Having received the blessing of both legends and peers, the group now continues to tackle the task of winning the hearts of the record buying public.
With an appealing, largely acoustic based sound likely to charm fans of artists as diverse as Norah Jones, Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek, Viridian seems just the album to do the trick. Fans of tones found in the rich traditions of Americana will appreciate the group’s authenticity on shuffling gems like “Shinin’ in the Dark” and “Lonesome Side of Town” which meld elements of folk, pop and bluegrass. Those with an affinity for world music should take pleasure in the musically dissimilar yet equally outstanding effect achieved by instrumentals “Mucky the Duck”, with its bright Celtic feel, and “Su Prabhat” which is darker and more exotic in nature. Young’s honeyed vocals, which are the focus of standout tracks like “Waiting on the Night” and “River of Sand” (which shines though being the closest the group comes to recording a power ballad), should bridge the gap to everyone else; the strength of her vocal presence alone makes the album worth the listen.
This is not to say there is a letdown when the men in The Greencards take center stage. Whereas Young tends to lead out on softer, slightly more subdued songs which lock casually into a groove, Warner and McLaughlin front several of the more high strung cuts on Viridian. “Who Knows” and “When I Was In Love With You”, the latter being the band’s attempt at what co-producer Doug Lancio calls a “Ramones meets The Pogues” sound (not quite fitting, perhaps, but still a pleasing and energetic folk romp) embrace more traditional forms and seem more instinctive than some of the pop-oriented material on the record.
There are a few aspects of Viridian that could leave a listener with something left to be desired. Roots music purists might have cause to find the album a bit too imbued with pop sensibilities, though the superlatives lavished upon the band from within their artistic community should serve to defend the band against any such rumblings. Additionally, not each track shines with equal luster. “All the Way from Italy”, for example,while a winsome lyrical tale, suffers from a rather pedestrian chorus and is the lone track on which Young fails to really establish herself vocally.
The Greencards should be part of the conversation when discussing the generation of artists seeking to create the next Americana tradition in the initial moments of this century. With nothing self-important or flashy about the group, they may not emerge as the leaders of this movement but if they live up to the promise displayed on Viridian they can be a unique and important part of the equation.
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// Notes from the Road
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