Higher Ground CD Release Party, Mt. Tabor Theater, Portland, OR- 11/10
Americana is alive and well. Over the past few years old time and bluegrass music has experienced a resurgence among performers and enthusiasts alike and with the success of last years soundtrack to the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou? the style has even enjoyed a period of mainstream success in the eyes of the general public. But among fans of live roots music the style has simply never gone away or lost popularity among musicians, whether people were listening or not. It has merely sat in the shadows of the subconscious, harkening us back to the days of the open prairie, quiet nights around a campfire pickin’ and hoot, hollerin’ throw downs in musty barns and basements, before music was ever electrified.
On Saturday night Portland, Oregon’s own Higher Ground took the stage at the Mt. Tabor Theater and Pub to dish out their own brand of Americana and to celebrate the release of Sandstorm. Recorded in July on the same stage, Sandstorm is a testament to Higher Ground’s dedication to the roots of American folk music. Anchored by Alan Glickenhaus and his virtuosity of numerous stringed instruments, Higher Ground has been practicing the gospel of traditional folk rock for many years traveling up and down the West coast showcasing their modernist approach to bluegrass music.
Proficient on banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro and guitar, Glickenhaus has a plethora of tools to draw from in his lead work. His playing can range widely in one sitting, from furious tit-for-tat mandolin runs and long sloping draws of a fiddle’s bow, to full on ear-splitting, crank-the-Fender-up guitar solos. Complimenting Glickenhaus’ leads is John Ostrum on guitar, keeping rhythmic time and offering his own soft-toned guitar passages, adding a slightly jazzy element to the bands sound. Chuck Masi and Jeremy Kaplan, on bass and drums respectively, form the foundation of the band with their precision-like timing and constant flow motion behind the melodies of Glickenhaus and Ostrum.
Saturday night the band had the crowd up and dancing and smiles were seen throughout the room on both the faces of the performers and attendee’s alike. Higher Ground had the stage to themselves for the entire evening and took full advantage playing one acoustic warm up set, and two electrified sets to the hometown crowd. There was a familial feel to the crowd, as old and new friends stopped to say hello or share a swing across the dance floor.
The songs performed on Saturday night, as well as those portrayed on Sandstorm, reflect the general approach Higher Ground takes to the world of old time folk rock. “Bayou Saturday Night” is a foot-stompin’ New Orleans Zydeco throwback lead by the sweet fiddling of Glickenhaus and takes the listener deep into the swamp for some good old fashioned fun. An instrumental ode to Oregon’s favorite summer gathering, “Country Fair” has the playful feel of a warm day spent dancing in the sun while the song “Hellbone” explores the darker side of the spectrum with its ominous yet all too catchy banjo phrase-work. And during their acoustic set, the band also proved their competency with a few bluegrass standards, such as “On and On” and “Freeborn Man.”
But it was in their group efforts where Higher Ground truly defined themselves. “Crocodile Tears” is a Yes-esque showcase of melodic imitation and harmonization as Glickenhaus and Ostrum follow each other through a long series of guitar melodies while the title track of the album “Sandstorm” explores a more funkified version of roots music. They are both excellent examples of Higher Ground’s improvisational spirit within the framework of folklore Americana and clearly portray the bands unique approach to tradition. And on “Off the Rail” Glickenhaus let it all hang out as he lays down thick and mean riffs from his Fender, Delta style.
In the end a good time was had by all as people crawled out of the club at closing time, worn yet ecstatic over the wonderful display of the American musical tradition they had witnessed on the stage at the Mt. Tabor Theater that night. An extra tip of the hat was given to those in attendance who had witnessed the recording of Sandstorm back in July, as the band shared copies of the disc with those that had helped in part create it. It was a simple way of saying thanks from a group of musicians who are simply there to share the songs they enjoy with those who do now and always have appreciated their own slice of Americana.
To learn more about Higher Ground including upcoming show dates, please visit them on the web at: