Iron Horse – Pickin’ On Pearl Jam
Pretty creative performance – grunge band songs from Pearl Jam shook up in a musical colander by a bunch of energetic bluegrass musicians known as Iron Horse. This could be just another musical excursion, or it could be an education. How music can be applied creatively to another genre & still maintain an attractive quality. It’s all in how it’s played… its attitude & its virtuosity.
Produced by Iron Horse, the set was recorded in Alabama. The 12-song Pickin’ On Pearl Jam (Drops May 12–CMH Records) was born out of a love for particular rock music by bluegrass musicians who believed they could reshape the melodies to fit their own perspective & expertise. This is part of a series of interpretations Iron Horse started to dabble with that are basically untraditional titles — but they make it work.
Pearl Jam was a band from an unlikely bluegrass environment – Seattle. This quartet aims their efforts as a tribute & they believe it’s heartfelt, deserves to be heard & understood by alternate ears. The bluegrass ears.
The series of “pickin’ on…” is not new. The group has picked on film music, the Beatles, Eagles, Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Modest Mouse, Metallica & others with remarkable results. I’m waiting for one for King Crimson, Procol Harum, or the best possibility of England’s Strawbs (who started out as the Strawberry Hill Boys).
But this set is interesting solely in how they take grunge music & put lots of lipstick on it – and it is prettier. “Corduroy,” & “Better Man” are excellent intros since there’s nothing to hint where they originated & yet, it sounds like a natural bluegrass progression.
The tunes are just long enough to get their message across in their indelible style. It would’ve been interesting had they included the classic Pearl Jam tune “Jeremy,” but maybe that didn’t lend itself readily.
Pearl Jam has written durable melodies & can be left open to an acute interpretation. Elvis Presley sang a slow 1950s ballad by Big Boy Arthur Crudup in “That’s Alright Mama,” but when he opened his Madison Square Garden shows it was infused with a whole new assertive energy that supplanted the original as a viable rocker.
It’s a rendering tightrope for a group of musicians to navigate. Iron Horse forges ahead. And solo Eddie Vedder since 2007 has gone on to a more traditional expressive folk style of songwriting sometimes with a ukulele.
Highlights – “Corduroy,” “Better Man,” “Even Flow,” “Given To Fly,” “Spin the Black Circle,” “Daughter,” “Alive,” “Just Breathe” & the excellent “Yellow Ledbetter.”
Musicians – Ricky Rogers (bass/lead & harmony vocals), Vance Henry (guitar/lead & harmony vocals), Brian Robertson (percussion), Tony Robertson (mandolin/lead & harmony vocals) & Andy Richardson (banjo/dobro/harmony vocals).
Color image courtesy of their website. The 46-minute CD @ https://www.cmhrecords.com/products/pickin-on-pearl-jam & https://www.ironhorsebluegrass.com/