MUDGRASS – JUST THAT WAY
2012 – Self Released
Mudgrass was formed in San Diego in 2010 from the embers of the five piece alt. country band‘Shoestring Strap.’ They are now a trio and can probably be accurately described as purveyors of alt. country
rock, simply because every song, even those that are not specifically country, has a country feel, allied to which, when they rock they are as powerful as most roots rock bands. Even on the gentler songs there is still a raw aggression that attacks the song rather than just caresses it, with very little that is smooth or polished in their sound, yet in spite of this there is considerable depth and subtlety to many of the songs and arrangements that ensures the istener knows they are not just about bombast!
Despite the fact that there are only the three band members, two of them are excellent lead singer songwriters who handle their own lead vocals on these tales that show off their raw expressively powerful sound, albeit driven by a surprisingly sparse instrumentation. They are Dave Lowenstein on bass and vocals and Brennan Orndorff on guitar and vocals, with Mark Markowitz supplying a powerful drum sound. Both men wrote five songs each, with one co write plus Brennan Orndorff’s adapted Pinball Prison Blues, of which more later. There is a variety of guitar sounds with a strong foundation being laid by Markowitz and Lowenstein that enables Orndorff to
explore various guitar textures and moods. Both vocalists, whilst having different styles, are full of expression and feeling with a rawness so essential to the overall sound, with their harmonies also blending really well. I found
the fact that they are both such strong lyricists to be pleasantly surprising in what is just a three piece band. There are no obvious weaknesses and the songs all blend together incredibly well covering a wide spectrum of roots music with it’s foundations in country music and always with a strong melodicism.
The album gets under way with Just That Way, a raw mid tempo roots rocker penned and sung by Brennan Orndorff, with his twangy vocals and guitar intensifying the hard driving pace. Lowensteins excellent Struttin’ is
enhanced by a gorgeous steel guitar and the usual melodic twangy electric guitars on a song that is probably as close as this trio get to honky tonk! Struttin’ is followed by what to my ears is the strongest song on the album, the co written Where The Creek MeetsThe River. It is a tremendously meaty, twangy alt. country rocker with a lost love tale wrapped up in it’s powerfully evocative atmosphere with the usual beefy guitar and drum sound. There are several songs that reminded me strongly of other artists, such is the variety this talented band are able to produce. The vocal on the twangy Can’t Hold Me Down reminded me a little of a young John Hiatt but was actually Orndorff, whilst Lowensteins tremendously powerful Bottle, is a slow moody Neil Youngesque rootsy countryish rocker with powerfully heavy guitar sound and excellent harmonies on an evocative tale of the confusion of a booze soaked musician. Every song is well worth it’s place on this very good album, but it is finally worth mentioning Pinball Prison Blues. Brennan Orndorff adapted the lyrics to Pete Townsends Pinball Wizard and added the music from Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, with Orndorff taking the lead vocal in his best Johnny Cash style! It is a novelty song but one that works incredibly well, with an equal blend of strength and tongue in cheek.
This is ultimately a really fascinating listen and whilst not perfect does include some well written songs
that contain some excellent playing and vocals with a really fiery drive and a powerful sound.