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Published: 2007/08/16
by Reanna Feinberg

Hot Buttered Rum, The Mobius, Ashland OR- 8/2

You can almost see it. The music passing in a high-energy bluegrass commentary broadcast: The banjo to the fiddle to vocals front and center, a low pick-up from the bass and stolen by the sophisticated mandolin who swirls it in its mouth, for a second, before the guitar swoops in and the banjo has it. A quick toss to the fiddle and the flute carries it to the finish. I tell you folks, it’s like watching an intense game of duck-duck-goose in music form, each player singing out their instrument when tapped on the head, then bang! You’re it! Orchestrated ridiculousness in an intricate game of musical tag.

I try to stand, rock solid, determined not to dance until I can trust at least one beat to stay the course. But this music’s clearly not interested in politics and flies between varied genres, tempos, styles and counts all within the same song.

The flute, one of the many instruments played by Erik Yates, wiggles my hips loose and shimmies through my legs like canaries fluttering in my thigh cage, Caribbean stylea slow light slate of sound. Other times it’s old 50’s style music suited for the Great Gatsby. My knees knock together and I dance in a funny waddle feeling like Bill Cosby in slow motion, until they speed up into what sounds like a new song but is still held within the same loosely woven threads (they do that a lot). It’s suddenly the high-action, heel-kickin’ instrumental story of what I imagine is about a man sitting in the middle of a Marx Brothers’ film where a piano falls out the window with all the girls’ dresses caught on a key string, stripping them to their britches. There’s no time to learn his name because hands are already strumming over the frets of stringed instruments like matchless vagrants starting a fire in the rain.

Bryan Horne, on bass, and Nat Keefe, on guitar, face off, speaking in eyebrow raises. Nat plucks the guitar like dragonfly feet flittering across a puddle in skipscoaxing bluegrass out of the thinnest of his guitar strings. Bryan flicks his fingers across the bass, plucking a raindrop from that puddle back to the sky. I want to call the bass deep for its inherent sound, but Bryan plays it with a full smile, joyful enthusiasm that seems better fit to a ukulele.

Zac Matthews and Aaron Redner play long sinuous sweeps of music in syncopated rounds of fiddles, talking, fighting without raising their voices, enjoying this feisty banter in tones perfectly fit for the shape of the ear. Zac returns to the mandolin with a fast pluck that layers over a slow long pull of Aaron’s fiddle bowcreating a lullaby for a hyperactive dream. Bent over the guitar, Nat drives the momentum of a train fast approaching while the slow, patient fiddle spreads butter over toast without flaking a crumb. There’s skill here beyond momentum. Aaron doesn’t just glide over the fiddle, back and forth, building something, he explores the cultured edge of notes, dipping into the bloomer drawer where other fiddles would blush and turn away, too embarrassed to pull those sort of intimate sounds from the fiddle’s lively strings.

The instruments growl, then indulge in kinky bluegrass. Erik Yates’ fast-flying banjo pickin’ fingers disappear under the shadow of his steady palm. The skinny bass feeds a deep percussion layer while the bow taps the fiddle between painting hips across the room. Zac on the mandolin seems to orchestrate the tempo, but then he turns on you and plucks away. His fingers run over tightly grouped strings playing intricate ladders of sound, surprising, like pulling clear symphonies out of a child’s bubble-popping lawnmower toy.

The curtains open for a mystery theater performance of a slyly paved waltz in a bluegrass pond. My knees lift high, slowly, pulling tar from a summer bog where I creep and stalk, sneaking up on something. It seems each man plays a different tune that swirls around the bowl-shaped room holding me up with different flavored wisps in perfect, unharmonious synchronicity. There’s a slow folk undercurrent that binds the song together, an easy Dylanesque timing, where the band’s various explorations meet and pluck in unison, before plunging back into their individual musical rants.

Blue vibrations build and flow into a river broken free and busting toward to the sea, smacking walls and rabbits on its way to the ocean. The flute sings like waves caught in a shell held up to my ear, and the music rides high, passes in arcs, splashes out of itself to taste the air, then barrels along seeing how high it can slap the wall and leave its mark.

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