The Lil’ Smokies | “Authentic, raw and wonderful”

New Albums

This terrific young band from Missoula has released its self-titled first effort, crammed with 10 originals, after using the online tool Kickstarter to raise donations from fans.

When the musicians got together in 2009, they played traditional bluegrass tunes. They were authentic, raw and wonderful.

They’ve branched out with their debut, and are still wonderful. Maybe more so, since they’re more polished while charting a new path. Earlier this year they won the 2013 Northwest String Summit Band Competition in North Plains, OR – the first of many honors to come.

They sometimes sound like David Grisman or the Punch Brothers, but they’re not so esoteric. It’s pop, in that it’s rich with melody, hooks, vocal and instrumental harmonies, and superb technique. Weaving lots of influences into a sound that appeals to the mainstream takes talent. These guys have it.

Members are Cameron Wilson, mandolin, Pete Barrett, guitar and vocals, Matt Cornette, banjo, Andy Dunnigan, Dobro and vocals, Scott Parker, upright bass and vocals, and Jesse Brown, fiddle and vocals.

Dunnigan’s “Decades” starts with a hypnotic and repeating riff, while the mandolin chops percussively. There’s a cool vocal harmony. The fiddle bursts into roiling jazzy undertones, then mando, Dobro and banjo take it and run.

Dunnigan’s “The Toothfairy” is a bat-out-of-hell bluegrasser with a bunch of breaks that meld into a unison riff, each instrumentalist jumping into the fray at a supersonic pace. The piece gets wacky before the end, spazzing out till the abrupt ending. Tight!

Wilson’s “Courtney” is a thoughtful and lovely instrumental ballad, thick with deep bass notes, a drop-D sound that sails along, high bell-like mando tones and quivering Dobro.

“Mending the Fence” has an almost orchestral flavor and great harmony singing on the hook: “I guess this is why they said the broken heart’s the worst.” The guys insert many themes and tempos into their work, adding an exciting and pleasing edge to the compositions.

The Dunnigan/Parker collaboration “Ships” starts with a soaring Dobro and fiddle line, then halfway through, the band teeters momentarily to a quiet interplay. The bass burbles, mando and guitar build the rhythm into a rock feel, and the song rockets away again.

Next is Cornette’s speedy “Straightfire,” with its light-speed licks. The album’s finale is a sweetly-rendered waltz, “Whiskey,” written by the late guitarist/songwriter Aaron Anderson, one of the band’s original members. The CD is dedicated to him, and it’s a keeper.

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– Mariss McTucker