Late Bloomers,
Late Bloomers
(Late Bloomers Music, 1999)

Late Bloomers is the self-produced, self-titled first CD for the Boston-based acoustic guitar duo, and it is a promising package of traditional and original music combining folk, jazz, blues, ragtime and bluegrass styles.

Late Bloomers are Brett Kinney on guitar and Randy Browning on guitar and vocals, with John Bigus and Hanneke Cassell sitting in on hammered dulcimer and fiddle respectively. The sound is pleasant overall and for the most part, lively and appealing with a touch of playfulness.

The first track is "Blue Highways," an original instrumental. Kinney and Browning capture the spirit of adventure and the open road in the breezy melody with the rolling driving beat underneath it. The two guitars blend beautifully in a rollicking call and response. Next is "Beans & Crawdads," also an original tune, a sexy jazzy song about Cajun cooking, and Browning's lightly rough voice is well-suited to the lyrics, adding just the right note of innuendo.

"The Grace Bailey" apparently commemorates a restored19th-century two-masted coasting schooner, which is currently one of five such remaining in the United States. (This was not in the liner notes, but research turned up only one "Grace Bailey.") The gentle melody captures a sunny afternoon sail that picks up like the wind, then winds down gracefully. "Ghost Dancing" is a haunting waltz-like song about the spirits of days gone by haunting an abandoned ballroom; Cassell's fiddle adds just the right touch of wistful nostalgia which seems to carry into the next instrumental, "Wishfulness." The piece has drive and determination, although it doesn't seem as evocative as the earlier pieces.

"Finn MacCool's Reel" features cool, mostly clean guitar picking played at a lively yet stately pace. The traditional "Deep River Blues" follows, and while Browning's voice is more than competent, it could use more weight and depth to successfully pull off the bluesy sound. The duo does a terrific job with "Red Haired Boy" as their guitars practically sing the rollicking reel; it's one of my favorite tracks of all. Browning's rendition of "Froggie Went A-Courtin'" is reminiscent of John McCutcheon and employs playful touches such as the guitar providing an echo to the verse lines (as opposed to the sung "Uh-huh"). The CD closes with two more original instrumentals, "Great Pumpkin" and "November," both evocative pieces of seasonal contemplation.

There is a lack of a sense of cohesiveness in the CD. The choices seem well balanced, but the whole doesn't hang together entirely; certainly experience would resolve this weakness. Points off as well for the attractive but skimpy liner notes; I like to know just a little more about the inspiration or background of a piece, particularly with an instrumental. I don't need to have gobs of information, but I don't have much of a sense of why these particular pieces were chosen or written. In the case of "The Grace Bailey," for example, I don't think I should have had to research the theme myself. I would have appreciated some context as a focus for my interpretation.

Still, Late Bloomers have made an exceptionally promising start, and they should be interesting to watch as they continue to grow and flourish.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]