Greasy Beans,
Real Live Music
(Double Ought, 2002)

It's hard to believe Real Live Music was recorded live to CD. While Greasy Beans have some welcome ragged edges in their performance, the quality of their recording is as crisp as if it had been carefully mixed. That's a relief, because it would be a shame to miss a note of Real Live Music. Starting with the opening instrumental "Fannie," the Greasy Beans deliver deceptively simple music with layers of hidden sound.

The Greasy Beans play with just the bluegrass basics. Josh Haddix, Charley Brophey, and John Matteson have unpolished, expressive voices perfect for the style. Haddix also contributes a fine clawhammer banjo and the group's sole guitar, leaving Brophey to supply the mandolin and Matteson a grounding bass. Daimon Empfield proves you can always use another banjo. Cailen Campbell's fiddle shines out from the sometimes more retiring strings of the other players, adding vital flash and a personality that could almost be a fourth vocalist.

A rambunctious, bucking, fiddle-driven tune, "Fannie" is the perfect overture for this collection of bluegrass classics in waiting. It introduces the Beans' homey vocals, riding along the ever-complex rails of their music. The tales of heartache and sadly wrecked relationships are given just the proper air of despondent good cheer by the Beans' homey, simple vocals and energized playing. Other songs provide a spotlight for individual sounds of the group. "I Left Her There to Wait for Me" and "Rocky Broad Shuffle" owe much of their emotional appeal to the fiddle; while it's fun to hear one player grandstand a bit, the best tunes are those, like "Lyndee," that give put the whole collection in the spotlight.

Despite the fine lyrics and likeable voices, it can be hard to follow the words of any given song. All the tunes are such sheer fun, they short-circuit the verbal part of the brain and run straight to the legs, making the most devout wallflower hop and dance. I had to listen to "Broken Hearted Woman" four times before my body was tired enough to let my ears take over and hear what was being said. The more lonesome, wandering songs like "Lineman's Blues" and "Gaming Car on the Missouri" are quicker to ear, and so overwrought with blues that they lighten their own drama. It's a shame that the lyrics can be hard to focus on, for they deserve hearing. It's worth a special effort to pick out the story of the "Pistolerro" facing down his greatest fear.

Real Live Music goes out in a final riot of fiddle and guitar, the howling, caterwauling "Dog Patch Scramble." The goofy good humor of the Greasy Beans can't hide the fast picking skills or the deftness of their arrangements. Discovering Real Live Music is like finding a classic bluegrass recording that somehow got buried for the last 20 years. It's a lot easier, too, since it can be found at the band's website. The Greasy Beans are clearly having a lot of fun as they wail and romp through Real Live Music, and any bluegrass fan will find themselves glad to join in.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 20 September 2003

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