I love creative band names and often listen to bands strictly because of that. I admit it’s not always the best tactic, but it has served me well thus far. The most recent example is Quicksand Marching Band, a five piece bluegrass band from Davis, CA. Their self titled debut, available here, is an awesome album, packed with 15 songs that range from traditional bluegrass to slower, more lyrically intense songs.
The album kicks off with “Whiskey Well”, a great traditional bluegrass song that sings of “that free flowing whiskey well, imported from the glorious gates of hell.” The second track, “Fly Home”, features much more unique and non-bluegrass vocals, something that adds a little texture and variety to an album. This is a HUGE strength of Quicksand Marching Band, their range and diversity. There’s nothign worse than a bluegrass album that sounds like the same 15 songs over and over. This debut album, while a little rough around the edges, which is awesome, shows that this band is much more versatile than just traditional bluegrass. The perfect example is the third song, “Good Chains”, a song that provides 5 part harmonies, instrumental solos and harmonies and an upbeat sound that is hard to not tap your feet to.
The band also does a great job with slower more introspective tunes, both lyrically and sonicly. “Mirrorwater River”, shown below, is a much more mellow song that features great mandolin work, and an awesome chorus with great harmonies. “And to me it seems you’re drunker every night,/ but it could be me, I never could take falling behind.” It’s a personal song, one that shines in a series of traditional bluegrass songs. “Driftwood Roots” is another awesome song, one that sounds more like a CSNY song than bluegrass. It’s done entirely in harmony and it’s a beautifully ambient song, one that sounds haunting and beautiful at the same time. Perhaps the best song on the album, another slow one, is “Manzanita”, a song about returning to a beloved place. “When I head northward for Nehalem Bay,/ Would you ride with me? Girl, what do you say?/ Manzanita, she taught me a simpler way./ Manzanita, I’m coming to stay.”
“Ponytale”, a song about growing up, sounds like Iron and Wine with a mandolin. The two most traditional songs on the album are “The Murfreesboro Saloon is Now Closed” and “Jefferson’s Barn”. “Murfreesboro Saloon” is a sub 3 minute, harmonica led song about a man whose lost his money playing cards and feels that he’s got the saloon to blame. “Jefferson’s Barn” is a haunting song about a man who leaves his wife and son at home to go search for gold in California, only to come back to find that they’d been killed for stealing food. It’s a song about regret and emotion and it’s heavy.
With an album that sounds like it was recorded around a tin can in a one room studio, a sound that resembles “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” in it’s quality and tone, a sound that is so refreshingly simple and pure, Quicksand Marching Band have created one of my favorite albums, top to bottom, this year. While not likely to compete with bands like Old Crow Medicine Show or Yonder Mountain String Band, Quicksand Marching Band should be a go to band for anyone in California. We’ll be eagerly awaiting their trip to the East Coast.