The Appalachian Road Show release new Album
We’re in arguably living in a highly trans-formative era for American culture and the music that provides its greatest of artistic statements. 2020 has definitely been a great year for new content on the left side of the dial, and if you’re looking for something particularly urbane among indie bluegrass and Americana outings this spring, you’ll soon learn that trumping Tribulation from Appalachian Road Show will prove to be no easy feat.
In Tribulation’s most profoundly affective songs, such as “Tribulations,” “Beneath That Willow Tree” and the unforgettable “Don’t Want to Die in the Storm,” Appalachian Road Show put all of their passion into getting back to the basics of bluegrass melodicism at its most fundamental. They haven’t got any time for filling this tracklist up with useless frills and elements that would never have existed in the classical bluegrass model, and for a puritan like myself, theirs is an effort that couldn’t be arriving at a better moment this year. When the world presents us with trials that seem almost impossible to get through, music can make all the difference between a tough today and a bright tomorrow, and I do believe that’s what makes an LP like this one so special for Americana enthusiasts and melody-lovers alike.
It isn’t often plaintive spoken word narration like that of “The Spirit of Appalachia” feels as poetic and honest in tone as the lyrics of a feel-good swinger like “Sales Tax on the Women” can, but all the same, that’s precisely the case with most everything we discover in Tribulation. Big, robust rhythm has always been one of the most essential components of bluegrass music, and in “Goin’ to Bring Her Back” and “The Appalachian Road,” Appalachian Road Show reiterate this with a sonic exclamation point. They’re so much more of a juggernaut here than they were in their first record, Barry Abernathy and Darrell Webb Present Appalachian Roadshow, and if you heard that album, you’ll realize how epic a statement that is for any critic to make. Tribulation sounds like a sample from a full-length stage show that I really need to see some time, if for no other reason than to experience the blistering aesthetical assault that comes with soaking up any unfiltered pastoral performance in-person.
There are no two ways about it; making an album like this, riddled with original, antique and experimental compositions alike, is not a task that most artists are up for, regardless of experience level. That said, in Tribulation, Appalachian Road Show put on a clinic in bluegrass, folk and Americana that could finally put them over the top with mainstream audiences this year. They’re coming up against a lot of competition from throughout their own scene, but if I were the wagering type, I’d bet on this project holding their own as the 2020s continue to come into focus. It’s an amazing time to be a fan of quality indie music, and for acts like this one, there has never been a better opportunity to make a serious mark on pop culture than right now. I love the direction they’re headed in, and I doubt I’m the only one saying so this May.