Year preformed at 4 Peaks:
Thirteen years separate Blackstrap Bluegrass’ new CD, the just-released “Closed Doors,” and its predecessor, 2005’s “Tales from the American Roadside.” In the interim, Blackstrap’s lineup completely turned over save for banjoist/vocalist/songwriter Steve Arnold, and Bend’s music scene (and Bend in general) grew exponentially. In particular, rootsy, acoustic bands have become far more common in the area, thanks largely to the groundwork laid by Blackstrap and fellow local newgrass institution Moon Mountain Ramblers in the 2000s.
After such a long wait, “Closed Doors” might feel a bit scant at just seven songs in a half-hour. But longer isn’t necessarily better. Those seven songs — produced by Moon Mountain’s Dale Largent, who also provides drums on two tracks — showcase a quartet at the top of its live game, deftly playing with styles and sounds and clearly having a ball doing it.
Opening track “Dancing on the Rim,” one of two songs here to break the five-minute mark, gets things started in the traditional string-band realm, albeit with a rocking edge to the intertwined guitar-mandolin-banjo riffs. Closing track “Desert Rose” bookends the album with another extended, ’grassy jam, led by new mandolin player Derek Hofbauer’s affable lead vocal.
In between, the band opens up with keyboard strings on the country-leaning title track and the stop-start rhythms of “Kentucky Dawn.” The two songs featuring Largent are perhaps the most interesting: “Tennessee” mashes up jazz, country and old-time swing, while the harmonies on “The Diner Song,” appropriately enough, sound like they were ripped from a 1950s diner’s jukebox.