For more than a decade and a half, the members of Greensky Bluegrass have created their own version of bluegrass music, mixing the acoustic stomp of a stringband with the rule-breaking spirit of rock & roll. They redefine that sound once again with their sixth album, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted.
Like the band's own name, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted is a collection of opposites, full of dark psychedelic swirls, bright bursts of acoustic guitar, soundscapes, solos, freethinking improvisation, and plenty of sharp, focused songwriting. It's wild and wide-ranging, showing off the diversity Greensky Bluegrass brings to every live show. At the same time, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted is unmistakably a studio album, recorded during two different sessions — one at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, North Carolina; the other at the Mountain House Recording Studio in Nederland, Colorado — that comprise the band's longest block of recording time ever. The result is an 11-track album whose songs cast a wide net, mixing the full-throttle energy of a Greensky Bluegrass concert with the nuanced approach of a band that's still eager to explore.
"You can call us an acoustic ensemble, or a drum-less rock band, or a rock & roll bluegrass band," says mandolin player Paul Hoffman, who, along with guitarist Dave Bruzza, handles most of the album's writing duties. "All of that shifting identity has taught us to cover a lot of ground. There's a flow to this album, just like there's a flow to our setlists. There are some aggressive, rocking moments. Some bouncy, funky moments. An acoustic think piece or two. It's a balance of moods and textures that we create as a band, almost like a mix tape."
Formed in 2000 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Greensky Bluegrass kicked off their career playing living rooms and open mic nights across the Midwest. By 2005, they were touring nationally, and by 2006, they were playing the first in a long series of appearances at the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Bandmates Hoffman, Bruzza, dobro player Anders Beck, banjoist Michael Arlen Bont, and upright bassist Mike Devol spent most of the following decade on the road, fine-tuning a live show modeled not after the toned-down production of traditional bluegrass music, but the full-on spectacle of rock.
"We play two sets of music every night with a big light show, and really care about creating a large scale production," notes Bruzza, adding that, "the goal isn't just to play important music. We want to cultivate an experience, where people can escape from their everyday lives for a minute and put their worries aside."
Playing as many as 175 shows per year, Greensky Bluegrass have graduated to headlining status at some of the country's most iconic venues, selling out amphitheaters like Red Rocks and world-class auditoriums like the Ryman. They've become a regular name on the festival circuit, too, adding Bonnaroo, the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Austin City Limits, Forecastle, and Outside Lands to their touring schedule. Supported by a grassroots audience whose members often travel for hours to see the band, Greensky Bluegrass are still a proudly independent act, enjoying the success of a major-label act — including a Number One debut on the Billboard Bluegrass chart for their fifth album, 2014's If Sorrows Swim — without giving up complete control of their own business.
Released on the band's label, Big Blue Zoo, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted kicks off with "Miss September," a song that splits its focus between Hoffman's mid-tempo melodies and the band's instrumental solos. Most of the album's tracks strike a similar balance, showcasing a group whose vocal hooks and flat-picking skills share the spotlight equally. Meanwhile, the guys stretch their legs on "Living Over" — an improvised, seven-minute knockout that's already become a live staple — and show surprising restraint with "While Waiting," a slower song whose ebb-and-flow arrangement often finds no more than two bandmates playing at once. "Room Without a Roof" features some of the group's most layered production to date, with electric instruments adding some thick sonic padding, while "More of Me" cranks up the drama, with Hoffman singing about heartache over a bed of minor-key guitar arpeggios.
"We tend to have a darker sense to our songs than most acoustic bands," Bruzza adds, "but we still have light moments, too. We're trying to explore the textures and sounds we can make, while still having the instrumentation of a bluegrass band. There aren't many rules. We'll run a dobro though an amp on a song like 'Past My Prime.' We can get pretty epic. This album is a crazy carnival one minute, and it's a psychedelic Pink Floyd jam the next."
Equal parts dark, driving, and dynamic, Shouted, Written Down & Quoted is Greensky Bluegrass at their best, fusing the fiery fretwork of their live shows with the focus of a true songwriting outfit.
The Cerny Brothers
The Cerny Brothers (pronounced SERN-IE) have found a home for their Midwest roots in the heart of Los Angeles. The brothers collaborated with producer, Matt Linesch (Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros), to make a rambunctious and romantic record for a definably American folk/rock genre. The self-titled nine-track album, The Cerny Brothers, was recorded in Ojai, CA at the Ed Sharpe studio. The album is loaded with emotions that run deep through the musical stories of home, growing up and family. The Cerny Brothers are: Robert Cerny – lead vocals, banjo, Scott Cerny – vocals, guitar, Cody Fontes – drums. Playing music together as little brothers, Robert and Scott grew up in rural Illinois in the small town of Sherrard. When they were young they fought over who got the Superman pj’s and who got Batman, chased each other through the cornfields in their backyard and helped their dad build the family house. Family, American pride and Midwest roots inspire a lot of their writing. At an early age, they started playing piano and quickly picked up the acoustic guitar. When they were 13 years old they recorded their first original EP and sold cassette tapes at school for $5. Sticking together, the brothers went to college in Illinois to study film, vocal performance and music composition. Eventually, Robert picked up a banjo and Scott the harmonica, rooting the band’s Americana sound. Cody grew up in the small farming community of Turlock, CA. When he was 10 years old, he put down his violin when he found his dad’s drumsticks in the closet. His dad was quick to equip him to pursue his dream of being a drummer. When he was 13 years old he came home to find his first real drum kit. Shortly after graduating college, he left for Los Angeles to play music.
Before moving to Los Angeles, Robert and Scott recorded their debut album, Dream, in Illinois with The Giving Tree Band backing the then duo. After releasing Dream in 2011, Robert and Scott kept writing incessantly in Los Angeles. In 2012, they picked up Cody transforming the duo into the drum-driven Americana rock band they are today. The release of The Cerny Brothers marks their first album as a full band since leaving Illinois. The boys spend most of their day under the gymnasium floor of the converted basement of their Los Angeles church hearing the pounding of basketballs. The underground studio is where the guys rehearse, write and bring their songs to life and, ultimately, to new fans all over California. They have played over 100 shows in the Los Angeles area from dive bars to the Hotel Café, the Mint, the Bootleg, the Echo and the Troubadour. They’ve been featured on Daytrotter.com, LA’s KXLU and are regulars on Static Beach Radio.