Medusa’s Disco Goes Acoustic: Fruit From a Timeless Planet

Medusa’s Disco Goes Acoustic: No No No Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah!

Maybe you’re old enough or maybe you saw it on YouTube.  Once upon a time MTV played music videos and even hosted a performance series called “Unplugged.”  When grunge rockers Nirvana made their “Unplugged” appearance, lots of people were skeptical…for about half a song.  Somehow the raw, painful beauty of their songs still bored into your heart even though they weren’t blasting your ears.

Such is the trick pulled here by Medusa’s Disco on Fruit From a Timeless Planet, their 2016 acoustic release.  The songs still feel like voices in your head.  They muse on disregard and despair.  The boys still ask big questions about the state of the world, time and space.  The screams and roars have become wails and whispers, calling you to consciousness like some lost band of monks chanting and tripping on Ibogaine.  They pick a line, repeat it, harmonize it and build it up until you’re breathing it as much as hearing it.  “Around here…it’s all so simple…it’s not so simple…no, no, no yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah!” from “Ask the Bird” will have you winking and flying off in one verse.

The intricate rhythms and melodies lend this acoustic set a progressive sensibility.  They don’t have the organs and synthesizers of 70’s era ELP or Yes but they do have ecstatic sitar and violin.  Does anything sound more psychedelic and other-worldly than a sitar?  medusa-acousticFor a young player, Wynton Huddle has a sensual hug on that thing.  And Robin Chambers on violin has long been recognized as a portal to another world.  She’s a special addition to the acoustic edition of MD.  Bees, butterflies and buzzards live in her bow.  Alex Aument on percussion shows a deft touch that belies his years of Muppet-Animal-like explosive nature on drums.  Ty Smith seems freed by going acoustic and styling more on his bass.

The human voice, of course, is the ultimate acoustic instrument.  Hunter Root and Wynton wield their voices like Jedi’s.  You hear and feel every swing of their vocal pipes.  Wails and whispers, screams and roars, mind tricks: they capture your senses and your imagination.  They are vocal pyres that throw a lot of heat.

There’s a complexity and depth to the music beyond the expectations of “…X rock band makes an acoustic album.”  And even with all the bemoaning of lies, liars and promises not kept, they still see promise in the world and reasons to pursue curiosity and enlightenment.  “Don’t wait ‘til you die…to become Divine.”  That is some nourishing Fruit From a Timeless Planet.

Album Review: A Ton of Bounce in Grand Ole’ Ditch’s Big Red Ball

This bluegrass band Grand Ole’ Ditch from Cumberland, MD is a serious contender for my band of the year 2014.  They have just released a full-length album and it’s a humdinger!  Here’s my review.

A Ton of Bounce in Grand Ole’ Ditch’s Big Red Ball

I only have two problems with Big Red Ball, the imminent release by the Cumberland, MD band Grand Ole’ Ditch.  It makes me drive 80mph and it’s an hour too short.  Song after song, the energy these fellas pour into the music just drives my heel.  And I don’t want the ride to end.  I want to ramble till the roads turn to dirt, the car turns to campfire and the water turns to wine.Ditch2

The Cumberland Gap is really the trail-head to Appalachia proper.  This young band reincarnates that atmosphere with sounds steeped in centuries of coal dust, thin topsoil and rarified air.  They are a traditional string band and these boys are serious pickers.  Guitar, dobro, mandolin, fiddle and upright bass: they dig deep coal, plow rocky hillsides and soar the steep peaks and valleys in beautiful, challenging territory.

Yet while the tools and traditions are old, the territory Grand Ole’ Ditch traverses leads you across some rare twists and turns.  They might start out around “Shady Grove” but they swing by Yonder Mountain.  It’s not just high-speed picking with the Ditch or getting from point A to B.  The arrangements, key changes and harmonies are thoughtful nods to the past with modern grins from the restless.  “Cap, Coats & Cables” is a great example.  The breakdowns come, then break down again and you’ve crossed two bridges and a chorus before you realize that you’re home again.  The lyric is that rugged winter landscape we all know but these fellas are grabbing their caps, coats and cables to go tame it.  Whether they’re towing cables, jumper cables or guitar cables isn’t the point.  They’re ready.  “Hindrance” is just as complicated yet as direct as a brick wall; “…I don’t know and I don’t care about useless, mindless things.  If I don’t get out of here I will surely truly go insane.”  This is modern bluegrass ala Yonder, Stringdusters and Trampled By Turtles.

The landscapes in Big Red Ball are populated with drunks, lost loves, dark characters and “Man’s Best Friend,” the song destined to be the favorite of many dog lovers.  The lyrics paint simple, accessible portraits with clever word choices and phrasings.  If the songs were paintings, they would be by Rockwell and Remington.  You will know the people, places and things portrayed.  You just might recognize new details or remember more than you care to.

Vivid, clever lyrics meet sincere, energetic playing and four-part harmonies in Grand Ole’ Ditch.  I’m not the only person who’s recognized it.  I first saw them opening for Cabinet at Dante’s Bar in Frostburg, MD.  The next I heard of them, they were invited to play Telluride, Charm City and other defining bluegrass festivals.  They will release Big Red Ball on a night they share the bill with The Steep Canyon Rangers and Bobby Hicks: October 25 at The Palace Theater in Frostburg, MD.  It’s the evening concert after the Mid-Atlantic Fiddle, Banjo and Mandolin Competition.  I figure even at 80mph I’ll be able to listen to my copy four times on the drive there.  You can download yours at itunes, Bandcamp or http://www.grandoleditch.com/.