Layered into this mix is the expert guitar picking of Billy Brandt, a fuzzy bear with a graying beard and a tangle of thick hair, and the tuneful mandolin or high lonesome fiddle of bright-eyed, boyish David Mosher (who can even play a dazzling electric guitar solo when given the chance). Brandt and Mosher are responsible for most of the band's originals, and they trade off lead vocals regularly, offering a satisfying contrast between Brandt's rich, rugged style and Mosher's clean, country twang. In most numbers, Mendenhall lends his voice to three-part harmonies that weave together tighter than a farmhouse rug.
On its new self-titled CD, Grievous Angel celebrates its countrified sound with the vibrant polish of studio production. The original tunes are structured like the songs that influenced them; they feel as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. Stories of love and loss, ramblin', farm life, and poverty pay homage to familiar country themes, although the lyrics are, for the most part, generic, by-the-numbers lines. With the talent dripping off Grievous Angel's instruments, I was expecting a bit more clever or poetic turns of phrase.
The single instrumental number, "Rags to Ragas," hints at a more adventurous songwriting potential with its looser jam, more complex rhythms, and pinch of Indian spice. Perhaps letting more of that wild wind come through in future compositions will also encourage a deeper reach for words. These musicians can't help but get better. They're already so darn good.