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Music Review: Free the Honey – Fine Bloom

Fine Bloom is an album graced by three instrumental muses: mandolin player Jenny Hill, violinist Lizzy Plotkin and guitarist Katherine Taylor. In the hives of these queen bees dwells a lone upright bass player, Andrew Cameron. He works his tail off to bring home a steady beat that forms the bottom end of this talented bouquet. Gunnison-based Free the Honey was formed as a string quartet steeped in the Appalachian sound. Its traditional mixture of slow-brewed fiddle is simmered on top of a jangling banjo, which warms when cooked over hot coals. Deep, low tones of double bass penetrate, held together with the churning chunk of a mandolin. Three American girls descant a breathtaking three-part harmony, blending together their soulful whispering vocals into a thick syrupy flow. These three sirens are songwriters accustomed to the classic country tune. Southern heritage runs like long river deltas down their veins. The Central Colorado Rockies beckoned them all distinctly with an older bluegrass mythos. A simpler form of music then made its emergence from floral meadows deep beneath the shadow of a prestigious mountain.

hqcoverThe technical aspects of this genre are closer to a smooth style often called hip-grass as opposed to a more traditional bluegrass, which incorporates more blues and faster tempos. Standard syncopation and fiddle leads inhabit this compilation and are fluently featured in the songs. As a collection this is a slower, more fluid album alluding to the static yet versatile state of fresh honey. Some non-Newtonian fluids react to applied energy by losing viscosity. The more it is stirred the thinner and more naturally flowing the ambrosia becomes. So it is with the integral essence of this collection. The low female vocals soulfully sliding across the ear leave little doubt that you’re in deep. Escape might be found only through the accentuated violin quickly leading you to the top of the fermented mash of mead.

This album has 13 original songs produced by KC Groves, with engineering and recording by Aaron Youngberg at Swingfingers Studios in Fort Collins, Colorado. There is no conspicuous production; the recording quality is so pristine as to be virtually unnoticeable – only the vibrations of wood under suspended strings and bare, natural vocals with little added effect. The instrumental tunes Waiting for Fergal and Jenny Caught a Catfish showcase the musical talents each individual player brings into the mix. All the instruments then drop out to highlight the three female vocalists’ cooperative, melodious sounds on the last number, Come up to the Mountain, made of real, stripped-down vocal harmonies that hauntingly recreate old spirituals sung alongside the riverbed.

Have you heard the sound of a blooming flower? Free the Honey comes closer than any to recording this synesthete ideal. It’s an easy, open sound, cyclical and free. An astounding level of faith is needed for a blossom to be born. This music truly trusts the listener to lean in and breathe deeply – to taste for a moment the twist of an old, familiar fragrance, exuding such purity as to almost invoke a foreign smell. This simple, clean, grassy CD is filled with aural smiles and smooth fiddlers. Soulful sounds dance between players who weave inside the wind, naturally twisting within a wide expanse of wilderness. If grass grew from a substrate of pure honey, the world would know honey grass. If rain clouds were filled with nectar, we would leave a tacky trail wherever we walked. Once the sweetness of Fine Bloom enters your ears, you may find a sticky solid tune stuck deep inside your head, with little incentive for extraction.

Brian Rill is a troubadour, composer and poet.