self-titled – Astrograss
The New York boys known as Astrograss call themselves "Newgrass from New York." It doesn't take much common sense to figure out that "newgrass" translates into "new bluegrass." Live, at places like New York's Mercury Lounge, Rodeo Bar, Parkside Lounge, and BB King's Blues Club, they've covered songs such as Guns 'n' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine," replaced guitar riffs with upbeat fiddles and taken out the percussion completely, save some toe tapping and hand slapping. They've even recently taken on a bi-weekly children's performance series at Brooklyn's NY Perks.
Their self-titled debut makes this seem a bit ironic, particularly because of the second track, a cover of country singer David Ball's 2001 song "Riding with Private Malone," a heart wrenching wartime ballad that speaks of old dreams lost and new ones found, as well as the lost life of Private Andrew Malone and his beyond-the-grave rescue of our singing narrator. Private Malone is a Vietnam casualty, but the story of a life lost fighting for our country hits home even if one doesn't personally know someone overseas. How often have we seen hysterical families on TV after they've lost a loved one for no good reason or read the lists of soldiers lost each week on the local and national news? Though this is Astrograss’ standout song, the kids probably won’t get it.
The band's seven-song debut has its share of covers, instrumentals, and originally penned tracks. The opener, "Flash Flood" is lyricless, and it's a painful track to start the album with, as it doesn't reflect the rest of Astrograss one bit. Those with impatient souls might stop listening right here. But, those with patience will be rewarded with the band’s groundbreaking newgrass sound.
Despite being from New York, Astrograss cultivated its sound by playing with some of music's greats. Members' resumes include performances and ventures with Phish's Mike Gordan, Lenny Kravitz, the West Symphony Orchestra and Frank Zappa vocalists Ike Willis and Napolean Murphy Brock. The other surprise is that the band has only been together since the summer of 2003, when vocalist Jordan Shapiro recruited three other NYC musicians: Dennis Licthman, Alan Grubner and Tim Klah.
While the disc does have more cover songs than a national debut with seven songs should, Astrograss do them brilliantly, and its original songs shine even brighter.