It’s been nearly a decade since True North released their debut album, “Cobalt Miles of Sky.” Then, they followed a year later with “Pluck,” that I found to have “original material, deliberative arrangements, graceful guitar and gorgeous vocals.” Now in 2014, we’re treated to “Elsebound,” an album that has been in Roots Music Report’s Chart of Top Ten Folk Albums since June 25, 2014. Elsebound is an imaginative word that describes a train in their cover of “Northbound 35.” It’s also a good descriptive moniker for this band’s expressive musicality that sparkles with creativity and individuality.
While the fine Oregon-based acoustic group still doesn’t include many liner notes (other than song and musician credits) about the band, perspectives and songs, you can find out more about them at truenorthbluegrass.com. Over the years, the band lineup has remained stable with Kristen Grainger (vocals, ukulele), Dan Wetzel (mandolin, mandola, guitar, ukulele, mountain banjo, vocals), Dale Adkins (guitar, 5-string banjo, ukulele, vocals) and Suzanne Pearce (bass, vocals). It might be because they are two married couples. Guest artists on “Elsebound” include Peter Miller (cello) and T.J. Morris (percussion).
As with their previous releases, “Elsebound” includes many novel, original songs from Grainger who has done very well in songwriting contests at Kerrville, Wintergrass and Telluride. On this album, “Be Here Now” earned her one of ten finalist slots at the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival songwriting contest. “Hard Place” opens the album with a leisurely and descriptive tribute full of poignant imagery. “Angelfish” is a bluesy offering with a graceful twist to the whimsical. As with several of Grainger’s compositions, “The Poet & the Carpenter” is a plaintive contemporary folk ballad, this one embellished with T.J. Morris’ light percussion. True North is attuned to a myriad of genres, but they channel their bluegrass sensibility on “Shiny Black Shoes.” A very emotionally-charged record, True North doesn’t shy away from putting themselves out there with maturity, stability and gritty realism.
True North’s cover of Hayes Carll’s “It’s a Shame” presents a bluegrass-infused message of tender sentiment permeated with lilting melody and gentle rhythmic drive. Similarly, their rendition of “Rattlin’ Bones” is a slice of Americana with a sepia-like tone. “Northbound 35” is a thoughtful part of the musical journey, and “BFD” is humorous alphabet soup.
Full of nice swingy groove, Grainger’s “Come & See What I Got For You” also has sweet vocal harmony and a spotlight on ukulele. Peter Miller’s cello adds a nice, soothing effect to the album closer, “Acceptance,” a song that emphasizes the band’s calming, well-executed approach to music.
Whether doing originals or covers, True North’s music is relaxing and comforting. Their focus and originality have evolved even further towards contemporary folk and Americana, and they continue to present songs with plenty of reflection, depth and thoughtfulness. True North’s crafty mix provides a very satisfying listen, full of charm and appeal.
— Joe Ross, Roots Music Report