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Published: 2003/10/29
by Chris Gardner

This Train – Wayfaring Strangers

Rounder Records 116610528-2

There is no denying the talent of this ensemble. From the steady players to
the guest musicians to the three female vocalists, every note on this album
is rendered expertly. The Strangers manage a unique meld of bluegrass and
jazz at a time when it it harder and harder to blend the two in a fresh way. The heavy vocal emphasis of the album highlights Tracy Bonham, Aoife
O'Donovan, and Ruth Unger, and each brings a distinct sensibility to the
album. Bonham's deep soul resonates through the opening title track (which
reappears in a breezier, New Orleans-inspired rendition to close the
proceedings) while Unger's "Lazy John" flows warmly. O'Donovan's delicate
"When the Golden Leaves Begin to Fall" is a highlight, but "Sit Down
Servant" puts the trio as a whole to best use. Their voices work
wonderfully together, and they blaze this largely a capella track to life.

The band behind them is always large and sharp. Banjo, mando, clarinet,
trombone, drums, bass, piano, and guitar all make appearances, often at
once. "Cluck Old Hen" begins with a clarinet solo and devolves into a 15
player scrum in the closing moments with instruments shouting atop and
whispering beneath one another. Still, it's the many paired (or tripled, or
quadrupled) fiddles that stand out and serve in large part to characterize
the record, which is no surprise since arranger Matt Glaser is himself a
fiddler. His arrangements of these largely traditional tunes are inventive
and lively, approaching these tunes from a unique place, infusing them with
a collaborative and celebratory spirit. All that said, it is hard to say
how much this appeals to readers. The album is well-crafted
and professional, but it seems geared for the adult contemporary audience.
It's impressive, but you mother may like it more than you do.

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