Music

Unspoken Tradition Make Fun, Breezy Bluegrass on 'Myths We Tell Our Young'

Photo courtesy of the artist

Unspoken Tradition's Myths We Tell Our Young is an enjoyable, breezy album. It's fun to listen to and it's well played, but it could use a bit more variety.

Myths We Tell Our Young
Unspoken Tradition

Mountain Home / Crossroads Music

19 April 2019

Unspoken Tradition's latest album is a solid, straight down the middle modern bluegrass album. The band leans toward fast and energetic songs but occasionally slows down just a touch. The picking is fast and impressive, the vocals twangy but not too much, and some big melodic hooks are lurking in between all the bluegrass riffs.

One of the record's most intriguing songs is the simultaneously somber and jaunty "Dark Side of the Mountain". The track begins with a slightly faster than mid-tempo intro in a minor key, giving it an intensity right off the bat. Mandolinist Ty Gilpin throws in a couple of show-off runs in those first 20 seconds, giving the song a bit of a bounce before the vocals come in. But once Lee Shuford starts singing about the haunting disappearance of a young woman it becomes a song of contrasts. The big, catchy chorus features three-part harmonies while the lyrics admit that our narrator is the only person who knows what happened to the woman. Because he killed her when she turned down his marriage proposal. And yet he regularly returns to mourn for her at the shallow grave he dumped her in.

Nothing else here matches the weird intensity of that Paula Breedlove-Brad Davis-penned composition, but McGinnis' own "Land" at least approaches it. It's also a minor key song, and it opens with a restrained style, with Gilpin playing a riff on the mandolin while the rest of the band plays off-beats or sits out. When the song finishes the first chorus, "But no matter how hard you try / You'll never create land", the whole band joins in, and it becomes a more energetic, rollicking track. The band takes time in the middle of the song for banjo, fiddle, and mandolin solos before returning for a third verse, chorus, and a coda.

On the other side of things, the bright "I Say Let's Go (Colorado)" is the album's catchiest song. Bassist (and songwriter) Lee Shuford's tenor vocals are perfect for this type of soaring, poppy track. It's an aspirational song about taking a vacation to Colorado. "I know there's a million reasons that we should stay / But last night Colorado got its first snow / So I say let's go." Zane McGinnis' banjo leads give the song its upbeat flavor, especially next to Shuford's singing. But Shuford has left the band since recording the album, so who knows if the song will even be a part of Unspoken Tradition's repertoire going forward?

The record's only true slow song is Ty Gilpin's country waltz "Light Just One Candle". It's another catchy one, but with Shuford on lead vocals, he turns up the twang. Similar to the contrast in "Dark Side of the Mountain", this song is a joyous celebration of infidelity. Gilpin's narrator is in love with a married woman and trying to get her to admit that their affair is more than just a fling for her. But the song ends sadly as the woman chooses her abusive husband over the narrator, "So you live in his prison / And I'll live in mine."

The album closes with a cover that will be familiar to fans of '90s jam bands and all the Gen X'ers who bought Blues Traveler's Four to hear "Runaround". Unspoken Tradition puts a bluegrass sheen over that album's mostly forgotten third single, "The Mountains Win Again". Audie McGinnis' gritty, soulful vocals are a solid substitute for John Popper, and the band chooses not to mess much with the song itself. Other than substituting the instruments, this is essentially a straight cover. But it's a good song that translates nicely to a bluegrass setting, and it's a nice way to finish out the album.

Myths We Tell Our Young is an enjoyable, breezy album. It's fun to listen to and doesn't drag, and it's well played. I just wish there was a little more creativity to the songwriting. "Land" and "Dark Side of the Mountain" edge up to fascinating material, but the band never quite commits to trying anything too different. It's okay to have catchy stuff, too, as "I Say Let's Go (Colorado)" is probably my favorite song here, but a little more variety could have pushed this record beyond breezy and enjoyable.

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