“Cocaine & Kisses,” Pioneer Mother’s debut single, is an upbeat, light-hearted listen. This is the type of music that we all need at a time such as this. A non-traditional, americana-type band by self-definition, Pioneer Mother hits us with a true bluegrass tune right out of the gate. Within just moments of opening our ears to their artfully crafted string riffs, we know that we are about to hear the heart of American music shine through.
Even as a relatively fresh group, Pioneer Mother has balance. Their chemistry can be felt - even in a recording. As a studio musician myself, I know how challenging it can be to bring on-stage chemistry into a studio setting. Pioneer Mother stepped up to the challenge, however, and has delivered a product that feels effortless and lively. This makes me wonder if the members’ parts were recorded individually, or if the band opted for a “live” studio approach.
I was instantly drawn into the harmonies that Lydia Sprouts [mandolin] “floats” atop the vocals of Tom Buswell [guitar] and Matthew Durgin [banjo]. Light and airy, Sprouts’ harmonies accentuate her male counterparts’ vocals in a way that adds sparkle - without overpowering. Based on this Live Performance [https://youtu.be/TLsD5ySOFew] of “Cocaine and Kisses,” Buswell and Durgin swap vocals throughout the piece. One would never be able to tell in their studio recording, however, as their voices blend together perfectly in terms of both tone and timbre.
It is difficult not to tap one’s foot alongside the rounded, woody, earthy tones of Colin Huff’s upright bass. Certainly not to be forgotten, Huff drives “Cocaine & Kisses,” acting as a solid backbone for the rest of his band to build upon. “Without a good bassist, everyone else is lost.” This is especially true in bluegrass, as Huff takes the place of a traditional tempo-keeping percussionist.
I was quite taken aback by the musicality of Durgin’s banjo soloing. I am a “newbie” to the fast- fingers world of banjo-playing, and let me tell you, this instrument is not easy. I have listened to my fair share of banjoists, but Durgin, in particular, stands out to me. He plays in a style that one could listen to all evening - while sipping a cool beverage, relaxing on a porch swing on a warm summer’s night. Rather than hitting his audience hard and fast with every picking technique in the book, Durgin artfully selects phrases that hit the “sweet spot” for his listeners. His stylistic choices are enjoyable and accessible. His tone? Bright and clean.
Lyrically, Pioneer Mother brings us a fresh topic - one that is not overdone or stale: embarking on a love that might not last, but will sure as hell be fun! It brings a message that everyone needs to hear at one time or another: don’t take it all too seriously.
If you need a musical pick-me-up during these quarantine times, check out “Cocaine & Kisses” by Pioneer Mother on Spotify. I, for one, look forward to the release of their first E.P. - set to drop in July of 2020. Their music certainly brightened my evening and I can guarantee that it will bring some bluegrass hootenanny right into your living room.