Review: The Greencards at Jammin' Java

An Austin bluegrass band (via Australia) performs with flair in Vienna, Va. Photo: The Greencards

VIENNA, Va., November 21, 2013 — The Greencards claim to hail from Austin, Texas. This is true in the sense it’s where this band formed. But it’s slightly misleading when describing the band’s actual origins. They’re much more widely traveled than the average U.S. band, as their two most prominent members—vocalist and bass player Carol Young and mandolin player Kym Warner—are both Australians.  That seasoned their recent show at Jammin’ Java with an international flair despite their distinctly American brand of music.

Given their real roots, the fact that the Greencards perform bluegrass is especially intriguing.  Once consigned to the most niche of niche genres with deep origins in the hills and mountains of West Virginia, southern Virginia and Kentucky, bluegrass quietly but quickly is becoming a more pervasive genre, particularly as it attaches itself to the younger generation. The fact that its appeal has traveled as far as Australia, at least modestly, is a sign of how much this genre has grown in breadth and appeal.

Band member Carol Young began her career as a country singer, which, at the time, was nearly as rare in Australia as bluegrass. Kym Warner was himself an aspiring bluegrass musician, which would be considered odd if he hadn’t picked that up from his dad.

Both Young and Warner accumulated awards for their craft – Young for her singing and Warner for his mandolin skills. Wisely, they decided to take their mutual appreciation of bluegrass to greener pastures in the States, where they soon met English fiddle player Eamon McLoughlin (who has since left the band).

This gives the band’s name, “The Greencards,” a peculiar resonance, in spite of the fact that two of their band members are now Yanks. But the heart of the band still remains with Young and Warner and their Australian roots. It’s not that this duo gives a completely new spin on bluegrass, or rather “progressive bluegrass.” But it does give them a slightly different look and feel that gave their live performance both charm and appeal.

On stage, The Greencards’ performance had an easygoing, effortless feel. In many ways, that’s actually a staple of bluegrass, where the appearance of a homespun group of musicians is essential, creating a loose, almost impromptu feel to each live performance. That said, The Greencards interpret this somewhat differently, as they seem totally unencumbered by outward tradition while their music remains firmly rooted within it.


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That’s not to say they never venture outside of bluegrass during their set. They do incorporate the kindred and indeed ancestral spirits of Scottish and Irish folk, along with chunks of classic rock ‘n’ roll and folk balladry and even touches of gypsy and Latin influences. That gives them a slight jammy effect at times during their set. Their charm comes from the inclusion of these disparate styles in a way that never overtakes their essential bluegrass sound.

During their performance, it was easy to see how much Warner and Young adore the basic structure of bluegrass. But they don’t have quite the pick up that a normal bluegrass band has, instead allowing each of their songs to breathe, hoping the audience notices how much they dote on each song. Young’s vocals are key to this approach, unusually warm for a bluegrass band. At the same time, Warner’s mandolin takes a more measured approach along with Carl Miner’s guitar work and Luke Bulla’s fiddle playing. 

Warner and Young’s love for and appreciation of bluegrass come through loud and clear every moment they’re up on stage. There’s direct and sweet approach to the way The Greencards play that is genuinely refreshing. It’s why they’re able to add so many different flourishes to their sound while remaining true to not only their Australian roots but that of the bluegrass genre they’ve uniquely embraced as their own.

 


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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