ALBUM REVIEW: Coal Town Rounders’ debut recalls bluegrass past

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First Posted: 7/1/2013

One of the great surprises about the whole folk/bluegrass “revival” of recent years has been the distinct identity each band that’s made any sort of impact has carved. Scranton’s Coal Town Rounders is another band that stands above the crowd on their debut CD, “Numero Uno.” With a decidedly frenetic nod to the Lester Flatt/Foggy Mountain Boys era of Earl Scruggs, and the Opry-infused, honky-tonk bluegrass of classic rhinestoned acts like The Osborne Brothers, the Coal Town Rounders pay homage to a glorious, toothpick-in-mouth backwoods chorus past, with the creative sensibility that comes from stories being handed down with just a slight twist to the tale upon each new recitation.

Vocalist/guitarist Christopher Kearney has humbly stated to The Weekender, “I think we’re just a pretty good band that plays bluegrass in a cool way.” Kearney is spot-on, as the musicianship that steers “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin” is on par with the nimble-fingered titans of the genre, like Ricky Scaggs shredding a mandolin in “Get Up John” from his 2008 “Bluegrass Rules!” collaboration with Kentucky Thunder. A uniquely warm, docile hand guides The Rounders’ treatment of the Patti Page standard, “The Tennessee Waltz;” the track is a throwback to the days of WSM-AM Radio’s crackle ‘n’ fuzz broadcasts from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

The band stretches out on tracks like “Rank Stranger,” with layered call and response vocal harmonies, the track a bittersweet allusion to the idea that you can’t go home again; Kearney tells of wandering around his old stomping grounds, “not a friend did I see.” “Foggy Mountaintop” is pure Appalachian soul, a faux-spiritual with the type of “round” feel that songs like The Carter Family’s “Will the Circle be Unbroken” possesses, with verses ripe for vocal tradeoff – like the timeless Americana imagery of sailing off to find “the girl I love the best.”

The past comes alive again with youthful animation, as the Coal Town Rounders blend Depression-era, working man backbone with the barefooted, rural optimism of a Southern summer Sunday to stamp a unique voice upon their own bluegrass palate.

Coal Town Rounders ‘Numero Uno’ Rating: W W W W

-Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent