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Jamming with John McEuen from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at the Alaska State Fair.
There is a glue that holds the Dirty River Ramblers together as performers and as a band; fitting it members, Josh Krohn (vocal, fiddle, banjo, guitar), Justin Kephart (vocals, mandolin), Mace Hathaway (vocals, guitar, harmonica, baritone ukulele) and Chris Hunke (bass), into one unit. . The tie that binds guides the melody and lets both the studied and intuitive playing seamlessly weave through the songs. Vocally, Dirty River Ramblers toss around the lead vocal mic like it was an Olympic category. Ramble On is the band’s debut. Styles mix as well as the Dirty River Ramblers harmonies and playing, with a sound they tag as down home jamgrass. Dirty River Ramblers board the tour bus from around an Omaha, Nebraska base yet their sound breathes high country with every note. “Lost Weekend” may still be a little dizzy from its Saturday/Sunday but it could just as easily from the rhythm that turns like its coming down a mountain road. Instrumentals balance the space of Ramble On with “Wally the Hound Dog” playfully bouncing through the bluegrass, “Armadillo Shuffle” spinning off a dance floor reel and “Carp Skin Boots” navigates an arrangement that offers Roots movements. “Copper Coil Daydream” traces its heritage to the hills for a sad murder ballad and “Eliza Mae” marries the mountain with the delta with Blues taking the lead as it sways around the room. Classic Country (“Take It Easy with My Heart”), front porch jams (“Red Bird Stomp”) and shouts out to the ladies ‘up in the big trees’ (“Hippy Girl”). Dirty River Ramblers flow, strut, stomp and sway through Ramble On with an Indie ear for channel styles to form something new.
Danny McCloskey, The Alternate Root
This is without a doubt one of our better acoustic old-time music maker bands in the upper Midwest. I've heard these same musicians in other groups, not the least being the very good Southpaw Bluegrass Band. Music, however, does not stay static very long especially in the hands of players who are not only unique, but original in their compositions. All of these songs are written by the band members with Josh Krohn making the most contributions. All of the songs, at least to my ear, are quite good, some mountain style sounding, some directly from the dance floor of western Nebraska, some from the very heart of early country music roots. Members include Josh Krohn on vocals, fiddle (exceptionally good on all songs), banjo (even uses a frailing style occasionally, especially well done on the instrumental "Wally The Hound Dog") and acoustic guitar; Justin Kephart (from the very very famous Kephart Family of music makers originally from Iowa) on vocals and super good mandolin; Mace Hathaway on vocals, guitar, harmonica, and baritone Ukelele; Chris Hunke on acoustic bass. I'm really picky when it comes to the 'mix' of acoustic music. I didn't get to record six albums for the Smithsonian Institution without that 'ear' and I'd have to say this mix is as good as it gets. I like the way the bass holds it's own throughout, but doesn't become isolated. I like the way the mandolin comes in on heavy leads and then backs off into the accompaniment mode, and I like the way the vocals are blended with the instruments. Two, very well written, 'romantic' songs are composed by M. Hathaway. "Hippy Girl" and "Eliza Mae" are pure traditional country, plain and simple. "Carp Skin Boots" is another voyage into instrumental expertise, tempo change and all. Excellent acoustic guitar leads here. The closing song "Equal Parts Pleasure" is a 'lost love romantic' song by Josh Krohn that includes his harmonica playing. Recorded at Alaska House Studios, good job well done.
Bob Everhart, Country Music News International
While traditional bluegrass has been on an upswing over the past few years, so have a number of varieties on the edge of the genre which blend bluegrass instrumentation with everything under the sun. The Dirty River Ramblers, a new group from Nebraska, fall into that second category, labeling themselves as “downhome jamgrass.” The brand of bluegrass they offer on their debut album, Ramble On, incorporates a healthy dose of old time, a bit of acoustic country, and even a little smoky jazz. The ten songs here are originals, with the majority written by fiddle and banjo player Josh Krohn or guitarist Mace Hathaway. The lyrics are vivid and clever, with several numbers particularly standing out. Krohn’s Red Bird Stomp is a fun, upbeat opening track. It’s a nice modern old time song, with quirky lyrics that sound as if they came from the early 1900s. Eliza Mae, written by Hathaway, tells the story of a woman who struggles with her husband’s death during wartime. Krohn’s fiddling adds to the wistful feel. Take It Easy on My Heart is a mixture of classic country and bluegrass, with Hank Williams-style vocals. The song is a plea from a man who’s been hurt before, and is worried that another heartbreak might be more than he can bear. Hippy Girl, on the other hand, is a laidback, old-time influenced ode to the girl who loves the singer despite his faults. The bouncy melody fits the song well. Copper Coil Daydream doesn’t sound quite like anything else on the album. It’s an interesting song about moonshine, with a sound that falls somewhere between the Steep Canyon Rangers and Old Crow Medicine Show. It starts out slow and mysterious, then kicks into a quicker, jazzy instrumental interlude. There are also three instrumentals here. The first, Wally the Hound Dog, is a banjo-led number composed by Krohn that gallops along at a nice pace. Justin Kephart’s mandolin stands out on this tune. Krohn also wrote Armadillo Shuffle, a Sally Goodin-esque fiddle tune that allows him to show off his skills. All four band members are credited as contributors to Carp Skin Boots, an interesting blend of sounds with a somewhat dark feel. The Dirty River Ramblers’ music would fit in well with numerous bands hailing from the western United States, and fans of that old-time and folk-influenced style should enjoy the songs here. Krohn (fiddle, banjo, guitar, and vocals), Kephart (mandolin and vocals), Hathaway (guitar, harmonica, baritone ukulele, and vocals), and Chris Hunke (bass) are talented musicians and certainly seem to be enjoying themselves.
John Goad, Bluegrass Today