Bluegrass frequently gets a bad rap. Maybe it’s because people have some aversion to banjo. Or maybe they don’t like the twangy sound. However, as shown by Damn Tall Buildings on the new album Don’t Look Down, if you have an aversion to bluegrass, you’re really missing out on some good music.
One of the great things about bluegrass is the unabashed virtuosity of the players. From The Stanley Brothers on through the history of the genre, bluegrass players have never had any trouble showing off their chops. This band is no different. When you hear the instrumental break in “Morning Light”, you can’t help but be impressed by the banjo (Jordan Alleman), mandolin, and fiddle (Avery Ballotta). All three are played with furious tempo that must be difficult to maintain for any length of time. It’s not just the instrumentation either. The harmony vocals are pure bluegrass.
The band shows that the tempo in “Morning Light” is no aberration. If anything “Evan” cranks even harder. It opens with some clapping and stomping and vocals by Sasha Dubyk, whose voice sounds even more powerful with no instruments behind it. With the clapping and stomping being so prominent throughout the song, it has a similarity to “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. When the instruments do join in, you can’t help but marvel at Alleman’s banjo picking and Dubyk’s driving, thumping bass line that sounds like a gutbucket.
The band shows that it doesn’t have to be full throttle for the song to be good. “Words to the Song” has an easygoing melody and vocals reminiscent of Great American Taxi. If you were seeing the band live, this might be a song you’d expect in the middle of the set so the band could lower their heart rates. In addition, the lyrics tell the story of someone who might be a familiar character in your life. “She doesn’t know the words to the song, but she wants to sing anyway.”
While the entire album is a nod to classic bluegrass, the most obvious example is “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” which was written by Bill Monroe. This is another foot-stomper fueled by a bass line that is sure to get your toes tapping while at the same time you wonder how anyone can play a fiddle or a banjo so quickly.
This album is 13 songs performed by excellent musicians. Even if bluegrass isn’t normally your cup of tea, you can’t help but be amazed by the way this band plays. And who knows? Maybe this could be the bluegrass album to win you over. Don’t Look Down will be available everywhere on June 7. Order your copy here.