Bluegrass has come a long way from Appalachia. Its expansion is due to both the onslaught of newgrass innovators like Punch Brothers and Railroad Earth and the worldwide interest in bluegrass. New Zealand has become a hotbed for the genre in recent years, spawning festivals such as Kiwigrass beside a growing span of artists playing in the traditional and progressive bluegrass styles. Auckland’s Albi & the Wolves play both.
An energetic trio comprised of Chris Dent, Micheal Young, and Pascal Roggen, Albi & the Wolves produce a full-bodied string band sound between only their voices and their instruments—an acoustic guitar, electric violin, and double bass, respectively. Their third studio album, This is War might be their most ambitious to date. The product of three years spent meeting people and sharing stories while on the road, the additional time spent working on their new LP has paid off. Working in conjunction with Seabright to capture the energy of their live performances in the studio, This Is War comes across with a satisfying, sometimes electrifying resonance.
Featuring work from renowned banjoist Nat Torkington and percussionist Helene Piper, their assistance in rounding out the band’s expanding sound brings a robust flavor to several tracks. The album’s titular opener comes roaring in with weighty instrumentation, Piper’s percussion bringing a rock-tinged ardor to the breakneck arrangement. Elsewhere, Torkington’s finger-picking across Albi & the Wolves’ version of “Wayfaring Stranger” brings an additional layer of swing and swagger.
The trio excel at producing gorgeous three-part harmonies. It’s especially notable on tracks that begin with more traditional arrangements, like “It Ain’t Easy” and “Waiting for a Train”. Country-folk duo Looking For Alaska appears on “I’d Go Anywhere”, a delicately-crafted love song with a lingering sweetness. Rounding things out for the album are moments of newgrass experimentation. “Oh Father” begins unsuspectingly traditional enough before diving into territory redolent of a slow neo-soul jam with sauntering, jazzy groove. “Closing Time”, too, ambles into bossa nova, and album closer “Canyon” sets the focus on a crowd-pleasing folk-rock arrangement where the trio impresses with their knack for sailing smoothly through a progressive, up-tempo performance.