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Split Lip Rayfield
Should Have Seen It Coming
Bloodshot Records
www.splitliprayfield.com


Split Lip Rayfield embodies the true spirit of bluegrass music. Period. The vocal harmonies, the white-hot picking, and the day by day tales of life that are at the very roots of bluegrass are where these guys live. But what makes this band so damn unique and so good is their ability to "punk-up" bluegrass music, both in tempo and lyrical content. The key element to their success is that while they pick up the pace at times, it still sounds like real bluegrass! You could see some guys sitting outside a 7-11 in West Virginia picking this stuff…except in today's world, these hillbillies have been sitting around doing bathtub meth for three days.

SLR's fourth full-length record, Should Have Seen It Coming, opens with "Hundred Dollar Bill", a typical bluegrass lament of lost love, but updated for today's times: now that she's gone, "she's looking good as a hundred dollar bill". Pretty standard-sounding stuff: succinct harmonies and smooth pickin'. Now, track two shows us where the guys really tear it up. "Truth & Lies" sounds like a man running with his ass on fire from a meth lab gone bad. Jeff Eaton thumps the heck out of his one string gas tank bass to drive the tune along. The other three guys, Wayne Gottstine (mandolin), Kirk Rundstrom (guitar), and Eric Mardis (banjo) really set fire to the strings of their instruments either while they're driving home rhythmic tracks or taking their turns as the lead. Although this tune barrels along at breakneck speed, it sounds traditional. In a similar vein is "Redneck Tailgate Dream". This number draws to mind guys mud-boggin' in the holler with its furious picking and rhythm. Funny thing is that it's about (presumably) white-suburban kids wanting to be rednecks. Hell with the moonshine…I'll just drink gasoline. Other spirited numbers include, "Lonesome Heart", "Lonely Man Blues", and the title track, all of which showcase how the gang thoroughly understands the premises of bluegrass. What's wrong with speeding it up? Nothing!

Although I tend to dwell on the hard-core tunes, we can't forget that these guys can really put it down in a slower, more "traditional" vein. Tunes like "Honestly", "Used To Be", "Don't Believe You're Someone" address love, and its sometimes painful realities, just as a lot of the great standards do. All of these numbers hone that solid ground of tradition, from the tempos to the harmonies…it's textbook. Another lyrical delight is "A Little More Cocaine Please". In a similar vein as the standards "Good Bunch Of Biscuits" and "Best Coon Dog In The State Of Tennessee", this song just tells it like it is and talks about daily life…except the modern life happens to be about becoming addicted to cocaine instead of food and dogs. It's just brilliant. This storytelling tradition continues with ode to the "Union Man"…and we're talking Civil War here folks, not the AFL-CIO. It's something I'd expect to see in a period movie of some sort.

Their musicianship is just extraordinary, as you can expect. "Promise Not To Tell" has one of the sweetest, rolling banjo lines bolstered by a taut vocal harmony. "Down South Sally" is just a rolling rapids of inspired strumming and picking. Although I've harped about their harmonies this whole piece, this one has some of the strongest voice-melding on the record. As far as pushing the boundaries musically, check out "Out Of Time". It starts with a very standard and rollicking progression before shifting beats and keys take over, giving a stuttering and flatfooting feel. It moves all over the place. And to top it off, the vocal harmonies also beat that taut minor strain that keeps this song feeling on the edge.

Split Lip Rayfield have this thing down pat. There is not a damn thing wrong with this record at all. When I wanna hear some regular bluegrass, it fits in perfectly. Even the high-octane numbers are not out of place with a mix of traditional artists. If you ever get a chance to see these guys live, do it. They tend to keep to the uppity numbers, and you'll wonder if you should dance a jig or start slammin'.

-tom topkoff

Track Listing:
1. Hundred Dollar Bill
2. Truth & Lies
3. Honestly
4. Redneck Tailgate Dream
5. Promise Not To Tell
6. A Little More Cocaine Please
7. C'mon Get Your Gun
8. Used To Be
9. Lonely Man Blues
10. Don't Believe That You're Someone
11. Down South Sally
12. Should Have Seen It Coming
13. Out Of Time
14. Union Man
15. Lonesome Heart
16. Just Like A Gillian Welch Song


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