Chris Castino

REVIEW: Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire “Fresh Pickles”


Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire – Fresh Pickles

Bluegrass from a Minnesota dance music writer/guitarist/vocalist Chris Castino who teams on Fresh Pickles (Drops Feb 4-Independent) with a Milwaukee, WI band Chicken Wire Empire. Together they create a delightful hodge-podge of performances based on an old music genre that continuously renews itself.

Some tunes are firecrackers & others are dynamite. “Red Sky,” is a workout that smokes. Guest fiddle-player Sam Bush provides the drive on this splendid tune. What makes Castino special is his ability to keep the bluegrass recipe spiced up with genre-shifting. He adds hints of 60s psychedelia, harmonic ballads, yet keeps it true to the tradition. This isn’t a novelty record; the songs are serious & well-played.

Chris Castino

Chris’ 11 cuts are originals, boundary-pushing with lots of storytelling. Produced by Chris & Adam Greuel (vocals) the CD features distinguished performers such as Jerry Douglas (dobro), Peter Rowan (vocals), Vince Herman (vocals), Sam Bush (fiddle), Tim O’Brien (fiddle/vocals) & Nick Forster (vocals) from Hot Rize, Andy Hall (dobro) & Keller Williams (vocals) from the Infamous Stringbusters.

“Shantytown,” is sung/spoken by Vince Herman while banjo sparks spill around. On a more serious take is the wordy but smooth “Goodbye, Fond Du Lac (The Young Pioneer),” that glides along with unified vocals, mandolin, acoustic guitars, & fiddle. It’s all a satisfyingly diverse ensemble tune.

“Rhode Island Red,” gratifies with banjo, fiddle, mandolin that are marvelous. The voices are reminiscent of the vocalizing in “O Brother (Where Art Thou),” & have that melodic punch. All the shared vocals are sincere & performed with skill.

Along with Chris, is Ryan Ogburn (mandolin), Jordan Kroeger (bass), Ernest Brusbardis IV (fiddle/vocals), & Jon Peik (banjo/vocals).

You don’t have to be “a good-ole-boy,” to appreciate this authentic Americana music. In our country’s fabric, we have blues, ragtime, country, hillbilly, folk, roots, alt-country, jazz & traditional. But when you add that special upbeat melodic bluegrass ingredient — that’s when the smiles get wider, skirts get lifted higher, liquor gets stronger, shoes pound the floor harder & life is worth living.

“Jackson County,” is beautiful & “The Ballad of Dan Toe,” is performed in a near-classic arrangement with Spanish overtones. To my ears, just as important as jazz. Do hear me, Buddy Rich?

These musicians must enjoy what they do because their joy translates through their instruments. The energy, fingering techniques, are all proponents that deliver substance with a modicum of joy. There aren’t any low points, missteps, loss of heat in any of these melodies.

I’m from the New York area but I got my jug, my cigar & I’ll dance with any willing woman, any age, any race, any culture – because that’s what this music does to a body — it sings the spirit home.

Color image of Chris by David Jackson. The 47-minute CD is available @

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