Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Album Review: Greensky Bluegrass - Stress Dreams

Greensky Bluegrass
Stress Dreams
**** out of *****

The jam-grass outfit Greensky Bluegrass only step into the studio to take a break from their life on the road, so when the global pandemic brought touring to a stop, the group got cabin fever, or in other words Stress Dreams, their eighth full length studio album. 

The band, Michael Bont (banjo/vocals), Paul Hoffman (mandolin/vocals), Mike Devol (bass/vocals), David Bruzza (guitar/vocals), Anders Beck (dobro) are old pros, but no one was ready to have their worlds turned upside down and that sense uncertainty permeates every track on this strong album of pandemic inspired songs. 

You don't need any background info as the album title states the premise before the songs roll out, each one grapples with finding meaning outside of playing music, facing endless days, and figuring out what to do with time. 

The tense music supports "Absence of Reason" as the bluegrass plucks, but something ominous buzzes right under the surface. The fidgeting "Monument" continues this vibe with the lines "This could all be gone in a blink of an eye" and the group dives in fully with the direct "Until I Sing". The song casts doubt on self worth with lines like "Feeling restless now and I want to get out" and "Worthless without a purpose until I can sing for you" as the band who are "Shrouded in fear and doubt" look for that day when they can do again what they do best, tour for the fans.   

The pressure continues to mount throughout the title track which morphs from straight ahead country tune with piano into an ominous creeping jam that uses distortion and organ hums to ramp up the feeling of isolation and nervousness. Giving up gets a bit of perseverance on "Give A Shit" while the downtrodden "Streetlight" exhales that love is only so much.  

Produced with the help of Dominic J Davis and Glenn Brown the albums tense songs capture each individual  instrument and when combined they deliver a larger suffocating feeling. The band are all technically gifted, but like on their strong previous studio album All For Money, they use those talents in furthering the songs themselves, not just showing off, which can be a detriment to bluegrass albums.
The middle of Stress Dreams slows for more contemplative efforts "Worry For You" and "Get Sad" before the band kicks it back up for the political reactionary "Cut A Tooth" and the Nathaniel Rateliff sounding "New and Improved". The second half of the record is simply not as strong as the first with the dour "Screams", the elongated yearning of "Grow Together" and funky album closing "Reasons To Stay" all good, but exhaling from all the the tension and existential dread spun to start.  

That said, no album captures road warrior musicians lives instantly changing overnight as accurately as the first half of Stress Dreams by Greensky Bluegrass. It is a world they hope they never have to return to, but now the veterans have a batch of stout songs to draw on as they reemerge on live stages around the world.   
Support the band, buy the album and peep some video below:

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