Alan Bibey & Grasstowne Releases New Album
Whether it be the boldness of the string tones or the very manner in which the harmonies they start are woven together, there’s something to stimulate most everyone who listens to Alan Bibey & Grasstowne’s Hitchhiking to California. In the lead single “Blue Collar Blues,” an angst-ridden lyrical wit is met with an optimistic, pastoral charisma as comforting as it is telling of this band’s immense artistic depth. “Rhythm of the Rails” sports a similar duality, though in this case it’s centered on Bibey himself.
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His vocal talents are coupled with a persistent swing in the strings in “I Wanted to Be Loved (But Only by You),” a wondrous contribution from Darin and Brooke Aldridge in “Daddy & Me,” and a crushing balladic style of play I can only describe as elegance itself in “Lonesomeville.” Capturing the identity of wanderlust without overstating predictable themes isn’t an easy task for any player, but this crew finds a way to do just that even in a cover song like “Take the Long Way Home” or something cosmetically simple like “When He Calls My Name.” The talent here is off the charts, but if you follow contemporary ‘grass, you already knew as much.
There’s poetic value to every element of the music in Hitchhiking to California, and you needn’t look much further than a track like the instrumental “Messin’ with Sasquatch” to know what I mean. Even without uttering a single verse to us, Bibey & Grasstowne are throttling forth a narrative easy for even the most ignorant of critics to pick up on and understand, and it’s happening without any sort of synthetic boost from behind the board. The master mix is robust at all times and puts the strings at the forefront always, particularly in compositions like “I Don’t Know When” and “Rhythm of the Rails,” both of which could have be stylized as straight vocal numbers. Bibey is careful avoid limiting himself to any singularities in this piece, utilizing Grasstowne as equal collaborators as well as a foundational building block in the title track, “Blue Collar Blues” and “Lonesomeville.” Hitchhiking to California isn’t a map to self-awareness, but instead an exhibition of togetherness at a moment in history that features a generation in need of a nudge towards comradery.
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I doubt I’m the first critic to say so this year, but I find this latest release to be a truly fine addition to Alan Bibey & Grasstowne’s discography, if not a new benchmark for their work together outright. There are numerous occasions on which Hitchhiking to California would make for a fun aural backdrop, but to me, this is by far one of the easiest lazy afternoon listens I’ve had the chance to hear since the start of 2021. Bluegrass fans should consider it the standard this spring, and provided the world gets back on track sooner than later, I hope I have the opportunity to hear Bibey and his band play it for myself in a much-need summer jam.