First time I saw this group was on stage at
the Mid-Winter bluegrass festival in Denver, Colorado. After only one set I
was a fan. They don't look like a traditional bluegrass band, no matched
outfits, no siblings or relatives, and their music draws from too many
sources to be called old-style bluegrass. Perhaps folk-grass or
singer-songwriter-grass would be a better description of what they do.
Originally formed by guitarist/singer John Lowell in 1993, Kane's River's
current roster includes co-founder David Thompson on bass and vocals, Julie
Elkins on banjo and vocals, Jason Thomas on fiddle, mandolin, and vocals,
and Ben Winship on mandolin and vocals. Ben joined Kane's River in 2002
after stints with Tony Furtado, Tish Hinojosa, Matt Flinner, and David
Grier. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kane's River is the cohesion
and maturity of the band's sound. Just as in a traditional bluegrass band,
each instrument and player has their particular musical role, but unlike a
more traditional band the roles are less rigid and more innovative.
Unlike most bluegrass bands, who usually perform and record some covers,
Kane's River do mostly original material. On Same River Twice only
four songs, a reworking of "False Hearted Lover" by Tony Furtado,
"Listening to the Rain" by Donald Devanney, "A Far Cry"
by Mike Dowling, and "Wind in the Wires" by David Francey, are not
from the pens of one of the band members. David Thompson, Ben Winship, and
John Lowell each contribute three tunes apiece while Julie Elkins co-wrote
two songs with David Thompson to complete Same River Twice's
playlist. Julie, John, and Ben all share lead vocal duties, and everyone in
the band adds harmony vocals. One of the two instrumentals on Same River
Twice, "Foisted Possum," written by Ben Winship, has an
especially infectious melody line that instantly sent me to my mandolin to
learn it. I suspect several of the other tunes on Same River Twice
will also find their way into many players' repertoires.
The sonics on Same River Twice deserve some attention. Produced by Ben
Winship and Kane's River, Winship also served as the engineer in addition to
sharing mastering duties with John Scherf. The final result sounds as good
as any acoustic recording I've heard from any major label. Both warm and
articulate, the sound serves the music nicely. Winship's Heiden mandolin
sounds especially convincing, just as did when I heard him play it live.
Same River Twice proves that Kane's River is among the brightest of a new
generation of bluegrass bands who are not afraid to let broader influences
have an effect on their music. I'm definitely a fan, and after a listen I
suspect you will join me.