T-Bone “Good ‘n Greasy” (LP) 

The mix of traditional and original material underpinning T-Bone’s eleven song debut Good ‘n Greasy isn’t uncommon. Many other songwriters and/or musicians have sensed the possibilities of working within a tradition and utilizing its tropes, sound, and aims as an ideal vehicle for self-expression. What sets T-Bone apart from others, however, is the seemingly effortless balance they achieve between the retro, modern, and eternal. Grounding their music in traditional instruments such as mandolin, banjo, and fiddle doesn’t date these songs but, instead, gives each one a familiar face for listeners before carrying them off in different directions.

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It’s apparent from the first. I half wondered, going into this, if T-Bone opening with “Lucille” heralded some sort of bluegrass reinvention of the Little Richard classic. No. It’s a traditional track rearranged by the band as a straight-ahead blues, albeit powered by mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and guitar rather than the latter alone. Fiddle player Richard Klein delivers a memorable lead vocal that I’m sure will play even better for live audiences. It isn’t difficult imagining him improving on its high quality for New Zealand audiences on the band’s current tour of the North Island.

Despite three members of the band being native Kiwis, the band’s identity transcends borders. “T-Bone Rag”, the album’s second track, could have just as easily been written and recorded by a group out of Tupelo, Mississippi as it is by artists hailing from such far-flung locales like Dublin, New Zealand, and New Jersey. It’s one of the album’s most enjoyable romps and only one of the album’s two tracks where mandolin player Michael Muggeridge takes lead vocal duties.

The multi-instrumentalist talents of several band members are crucial for the album’s success but, even more so, the vocals are a highlight. Having four capable lead singers who can take the helm gives the band stylistic flexibility that few others share. Their songwriting prowess has a long reach, as well. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Gerry Paul is the group’s primary writer, without question, but each member is a significant contributor, and it further diversifies their sound.

“Far North”, written by Paul, band member Cameron “Dusty” Burnell, and Muggeridge, has a jaunty bounce without ever sounding overstated. I admire how they understand dynamics have their place in any musical style and modulating their attack for just the right effect deepens the impact of each track. “You Didn’t Write Me Letters Back” is Gerry Paul’s songwriting hem on the album that shines brighter than the others. It comes across like an experience much more than any sort of artistic “exercise” and his attempt at writing a traditional-minded song that, nevertheless, invokes the universal is a resounding victory.

“I Hope That Time Passes Me By” is another emotionally affecting track driven by simple poetry in its heart. This is Muggeridge’s second lead vocal, and he gives a sensitive, lively reading of the sentiments dovetailing seamlessly into the music. Gerry Pail’s acoustic guitar leads the band much of the way through “Guide Me Home” and it gives this song a distinct flavor. T-Bone understands the importance of each song being able to stand on their own as a singular musical experience and doesn’t miss once.

The finale “Manuka Swing/Balfa Waltz” brings fiddle player Richard Klein back for the album’s last lead vocal. His unholy blues bray doesn’t enter the song until the second part, “Manuka Swing” is a slowly developing yet rewarding instrumental. They pull the transition off without losing their footing and Klein comes in, first with his fiddle, then his voice. It’s exciting stuff. Ending the album with his near-possessed vocals underlines the soul that’s the foundation of this band, no matter the singer.

T-Bone’s Good ‘n Greasy is the start of something meaningful and long-lasting. The band has wisely associated themselves with Linktree, putting everything current a finger movement away for their admirers, and it’s a good thing. A lot of people are going to want to know more about this band in the future.

Chadwick Easton

Music

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