Folk World CD Review: #65 3/2018
True North “Open Road, Broken Heart
Own label, 2017
This is True North’s newest album released 2017. The album features eight new originals penned by Kristen Grainger and four songs from Justin Evan Thompson, Brandi Carlile, Fred Eaglesmith, and Eddie Vedder. Guest artists Eric Alterman on cello and Todd Sickafoose on bass add their talents to this collection recorded by Dale Adkins at Big Owl Studios and produced by True North.
It is a folkyish album with more than a touch of bluegrass. And what comes over loud and clear is that one is in the presence of some seriously talented musicians. Some of the sweetest harmonies you’ll find this side of barbershop quartet singing, the album is also notable for the banjo of Dale Adkins, and Dan Wetzel’s mandolin.
Only one song was familiar to me: a Fred Eaglesmith song, Wilder Than Her, a song where the singer says these arresting words to explain the somewhat unusual relationship…
“Because I’m wilder than her; drives her out of her mind/I guess she thought that she was just one of a kind/But she’s a summer storm; I’m a hurricane/One just blows through town, one blows the town away/And I’m wilder than her.”
(Don’t you just love that couplet on “the town”!!?)
It is the song I liked the best, as they do a good job on it, and made me momentarily forget Fred’s version. But maybe the most beautiful, in terms of melody and harmonies is Ratio Of Angels To Demons, where the sad, hard reality lyrics are slightly at variance with a deliciously gentle melody. But oh the three-part vocal harmony is to die for.
To sum up then: this is just the album to play on a dreamy summer afternoon.


Musikrichtung: Americana/Folk

VÖ: 06.04.2018


Gesamtspielzeit: 43:43


(German album review):
Not to be confused with a mixed formation from Scandinavia / USA, which released an EP in 2014, this band True North is one from Oregon, which presents its fourth album, Open Road, Broken Heart. Musical theme is Americana with a hefty dose of bluegrass. The basis for the sound, however, is basically acoustic folk with a very harmonious and melodic orientation. The compositions are thoughtful and full of beauty and intimacy. The music flows very relaxed and spreads a pleasant mood. No musician comes to the fore, rather a dense and closed atmosphere is built up.

Most of the songs are by Kristen Grainger and are poetic about the things of life and all its hazards and horrors of everyday life in modern civilization. (“… sold her house and all the things and put her in a home”, so on “One-Way Ticket” on the fate of a woman who was probably in a nursing home.) Her songs carries Kristen in an expressive and soft voice carried forward by the high-class accompaniment of the musicians. This music is ideal for relaxing, it would have been nice to add the lyrics to round out the harmonic overall picture. Unfortunately, these are not available on the website.

So you have to focus more closely and listen to the texts in addition to the music, and will probably recognize that despite the superficially sometimes acting melancholy mood also a lot of positive views and optimism are presented. Due to the tightness of the album there is not necessarily a special song that stands out from the crowd, but I personally like “One-Way Ticket”, the beautiful “Ratio Of Angels To Demons” and the foreign composition (Fred Eaglesmith) “Wilder Than Her “Best with the beautiful harmony singing of Kristen and Dan.

True North: Open Road, Broken Heart

New review- translated by Google Translator – from Country Jukebox (Germany)

The current release – already the fourth album of the Bluegrass Acoustic Folk-Roots-Quartet TRUE NORTH from Oregon – also settles comfortably in our ear canals with its twelve songs
If the sound of the singer / songwriter Kristen Grainger, Dan Wetzel, Dale Adkins and Suzanne Pearce-Adkins existing formation was already widely established, you stretch out at Open Road, Broken Heart the feelers even further toward song-oriented Americana
organic and warm, the whole thing now sounds even in the instrumental direction, complemented by first-class songwriting and perfect harmony singing, of course, comes back to the thickest plus point of True North to advantage: the beguiling, wonderfully fascinating relaxed voice of Kristen Grainger – a pretty big hit for True North
Max W. Achatz
Theodor-Dombart-Straße 5
80805 Munich

Open Road, Broken Heart- True North

New album review – translated  by Google Translator 😆 – from Roots Time (Belgium):
“The American formation ‘True North’ from Oregon on the American West Coast combines traditional bluegrass music with folk and acoustic harmonious harmonies. The lead vocals are provided by singer and songwriter Kristen Grainger who also plays on ukulele and by singer Dan Wetzel, who plays all kinds of stringed instruments, ranging from acoustic guitar over mandolin and banjo to ukulele. Third band member is Dale Adkins who also plays guitar and banjo and contrabassist Suzanne Pearce Adkins (Dale’s eega) completes the quartet.Their latest album “Open Road, Broken Heart” is the successor to the album “Elsebound” which was released in 2014 and contains 12 songs of which Kristen Grainger has provided lyrics and music. The four other songs are covers that are each time brought by Dan Wetzel as lead singer: “Mighty Bourbon” by Justin Evan Thompson from his album “Hymns For A Manchild” from 2015, “Without You” from the album “Ukelele Songs” from 2011 ‘Pearl Jam’-frontman Eddie Vedder and “Wilder Than Her” from the cd “Drive-In Movie” from 1998 by Fred Eaglesmith. Kristen and Dan bring together in the duet form the beautiful song “The Eye” by Brandi Carlile, together with her cousins ​​Phil and Tim Hanseroth (aka ‘The Twins’) a capella sung track from her latest album “The Firewatcher’s Daughter” from 2015.The album “Open Road, Broken Heart” from ‘True North’ opens very attractive with the ballad “One-Way Ticket”, a song on which you can enjoy the accompanying video in an acoustic live version. The small moments of happiness that pop up in everyone’s life form the subject of the subsequent bluegrass song “Small Wonders”. Guitar ballad “Dark Horse Bar & Grill” seems to be about the name of a god-forgotten, dark place where one can think about the things of life in peace and anonymity.

Folk ballad “Ratio Of Angels To Demons” is a song about a fictional conversation between two good friends, one of which, however, has died. Picking up all kinds of collectively lived memories seems to be funny at times, but it is actually a sad and painful story. “Seed, Leaf, Flower, Seed” is about the things that are linked to the seasons and the repetitive succession that everyone in his life can experience. To finish off this album, we get two more typical bluegrass songs with “I’m Gone” and “You Come Around”.

The comparisons made in the trade press between ‘True North’ and bands like ‘Alison Krauss & Union Station’ and ‘Mandolin Orange’ are not entirely unjustified, but we still find that in this quartet an added value can be found that is less present is with the mentioned groups, a very strong focus on the harmony and melody in the songs and also a never disturbing presence of all those typical acoustic bluegrass instruments. Nice record, you know!


“Bluegrass, folk and acoustic harmony vocals: that’s the key ingredient of the American band ‘True North’ from Oregon, serving 8 self-penned tracks and 4 cover versions on their album ‘Open Road, Broken Heart’. The typical and traditional bluegrass instruments create a very agreeable record from this highly original band. ” –

True North Open Road, Broken Heart Self ReleasePublished  at http://www.lonesomehighway.comTrue North is an acoustic Folk/Roots band that has released three previous albums prior to this new offering which surfaced in 2017. The band comprises Kristen Grainger (ukulele, vocals), Dan Wetzel (guitar, resonator guitar, octave mandolin, ukulele, vocals), Martin Stevens (mandolin, fiddle, octave mandolin, vocals) and Josh Adkins (upright bass, vocals). The album features eight songs written by Kristen Grainger and four covers; Mighty Bourbon (Justin Evan Thompson), The Eye (Brandi Carlile, Philip and Timothy Hanseroth), Wilder Than Her (Fred Eaglesmith) and Without You (Eddie Vedder).Guest musicians Eric Alterman (cello) and Todd Sickafoose (bass) join the band who self-produced the collection at Big Owl Studios in Eugene, Oregon. The playing is subtle and understated, giving the songs a cohesion and fluidity that makes the listening experience a very positive one. The vocals of Grainger are very engaging and the sweet melodies are quite hypnotic when listening on headphones; intimate and charged with a gentle longing.  The harmony vocals with Dan Wetzel are very complimentary to Grainger’s voice and lend an added layer to the arrangements.One-Way Ticket contains the lines that appear as the title of the album and the song is one of striking out for the future, changing circumstances and having the will to keep believing. Dark Horse Bar & Grill celebrates the solace of a local hostelry where there is ‘lots of free philosophy’. Ratio of Angels to Demons deals with the passing of a friend and does so in a very creative and poignant manner. The subject matter of some songs is somewhat bleak with titles like I’m Gone, You Come Around, Sunday Night Blues andWithout You handling the pain of separation and the feeling of being alone in the World. However, these are balanced by the upbeat melodies of Seed, Leaf, Flower, Seed – a celebration of the Seasons and the inherent magic of Mother Nature, plus the ability to take the extraordinary from the everyday ordinary things as explored on Small Wonders. A very impressive release and one that is well worth exploring further.

-Ronnie Norton, Lonesome Highway

True North – Open Road, Broken Heart

True NorthTrue North
Album:Open Road, Broken Heart
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 12

A Pacific northwest bluegrass quartet lining up as singer and ukulele player Kristen Grainger, who handles most of the songwriting, Dan Wetzel and Dale Adkins, variously providing guitars, banjo, uke and mandolin, and bassist Suzanne Pearce-Adkins and, this is their fourth album, one which shades the bluegrass with more folksier Americana. It opens with the cello adorned ‘One-Way Ticket’, from whence comes the album title, a snapshot of three characters in search of escape and freedom, the first still wearing her wedding dress, all finally allowing themselves a smile despite the downbeat circumstances.

‘Small Wonders’ picks up the pace with a banjo-driven bluegrass bounce, but the tempo drops again for the country hued ‘Dark Horse Bar & Grill’, a dreamily acoustic love letter ballad to the places we go to forget out troubles with “a special vault, for storing things that aren’t your fault.”

The mix of melancholia and optimism informs much of the album, there on Sunday Night Blues with its lonesome reminiscences of the past and things left behind, the banjo dappled You Come Around and, especially, on the slow waltzing, funeral-set ‘Ratio Of Angels To Demons’, a song about a Wetzel harmonising on the chorus where she sings how “you played scissors and fate it played rock and wins every time.”

There’s four covers here, ‘The Eye’ a folk-country ballad from Brandi Carlisle’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder’s ‘Without You’ from his 2011 Ukulele Songs, ‘Mighty Bourbon’, a bluesy drink and drugs song by Justin Evan Thompson, and Fred Eaglesmith’s lovely ‘Wilder Than Her’. Wetzel sings lead on all these, as he does on ‘I’m Gone’, a jaunty leaving song (“you take the house, I’ll take the truck”) co-penned with Grainger, who provides harmonies.

The remaining track and a particular highlight is the gently jogging folksy cycle of life-themed duet ‘Seed, Lead, Flower, Seed’ that calls to mind the best of Gordon Lightfoot, and is another very good reason to set your compass in their direction.

Mike Davies

Kris Kristofferson famously wrote that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Kristen Grainger, lead singer & songwriter for True North, writes a corollary, “you call it leaving, but she calls it freedom”, on One Way Ticket, the opening track on their latest album.  While Me And Bobby McGee was about the journey and resulting angst of a young drifter, the songs on Open Road, Broken Heart reflect a more complicated set of worries that echo the angst in our current political and civil societal discourse.

I’m Gone is a nice bluegrass number that’s commentary on splitting up where “you take the house, I’ll take the truck.”  Sunday Night Blues is a folk ballad that observes “it’s so hard being grownup enough to lose the Sunday night blues.”  In an ode to place we should all have in our neighborhood, Dark Horse Bar & Grill “has a special vault, for storing things that aren’t your fault.”

Several of the songs on the record take a more wry approach, like Mighty Bourbon, with its vocal harmonies from Grainger and guitarist Dan Wetzel, about some of the faces of temptation.  The harmonies on Ratio Of Angels To Demons are even better, where Grainger notes “you play scissors, fate it plays rock.”  They also do a cover of a Fred Eaglesmith song, Wilder Than Her, about the attraction of someone who’s even more of something than you are.

Whereas the previous album from True North, Elsebound, leaned heavily toward bluegrass, most of the songs on Open Road, Broken Heart have more of a modern folk sound and beat.  The harmonies of Grainger and Wetzel really shine.  The bluegrass tunes that are included serve to keep things a little more airy than the song topics might normally drive.  The result is a record that’s both complicated and listenable.  Perfect for being stuck inside on a long winter day.

About the author:  Support new music. Listen to a band or singer you’ve never heard of this week. I’ve been doing that for over 30 years.

True North – Open Road, Broken Heart
Written by Joe Ross
November 19, 2017 – 12:00am EST

Review Rating StarReview Rating StarReview Rating StarReview Rating Star

Based in Oregon, True North’s fourth album in over a dozen years together continues to emphasize rootsy original material with poignancy and soul. The band is a passionate contributor to the northwest’s acoustic folk and Americana repertoire. Their focus squarely emphasizes prolific contemporary messages, thoughtful arrangements, graceful instrumentation, and relaxed vocals. The group’s primary songwriter, Kristen Grainger, was a finalist at Merlefest, Telluride and Kerrville Festival songwriting contests. She’s joined by Dan Wetzel, Dale Adkins, Suzanne Pearce, and two guest artists Eric Alterman and Todd Sicafoose.

Opening with “One Way Ticket,” we hear about three different people searching for freedom and happiness. It’s a stark reminder that life isn’t perfect, but one must stay optimistic and keep on believing. “Dark Horse Bar & Grill” paints a vivid picture of a seedy place “with a special vault for storing things that aren’t your fault.” I also enjoyed the Zen-like quality of “Seed, Leaf, Flower, Seed” with its concise expressions that evoke the seasons of life. “You Come Around” is an interesting, but rather sad, take on the heartache of prolonged waiting for love to blossom. Song crafting is an art, and True North has again succeeded. I continue to encourage them to write more up-tempo material. Despite that, their masterful approach has a reflective, poetic quality and potential for widespread appeal. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)

“The beautiful songs, the delicate and subtle acoustic sound (with some echoes of bluegrass every now and then) and those wonderful harmony vocals (sometimes reminding me the golden era of the West Coast music) make “Open Road Broken Heart” a true jewel and a very appealing and catchy album.
I immediately started playing you music in my radio show…”

Massimo Ferro,
Highway 61

True North ‘Elsebound’ – Self Release

Simple statement: I really like this album. It caught me totally by surprise. There are 13 tracks, each of which draws you back to listen again to their simplicity and melody. Each little gem seems to be hand picked and polished to perfection. The instrumentation supports and lifts the songs from their already high vocal standard to a place that just snuggles in your ear and dishes out crystal clear lyrics in a style seldom heard these days.

Eight of the thirteen songs are written by Kristen Grainger, who delivers most of the vocals, and the rest of the singing duties are shared equally by her partner Dan Wetzel and the other couple making up the Salem, Oregon based quartet, Dale and Suzanne Pearse Adkins.

All of the songs have a rhyming simplicity that would have done Harlan Howard proud and their strong storytelling nails your foot to the floor till each one lets you loose. They are true to bluegrass when needed but drift into old timey or swing or even a tinge of Celticy folk. It’s hard to pick out a winner from all of Kristen’s songs but The Poet and the Carpenter and Shiny Black Shoes for me really show her ability to blend words and suitable melody to suit the mood and style. But the the life-story in Be Here Now is a real lump in the throat masterpiece. The addition of Ruth Moody’s One Voice and Rattlin’ Bones from Shane Nicholson and Kasey Chambers shows just how easily Kristen’s songwriting sits with the best of the best.

The boys provide stunning flat-picked guitar and a host of appropriate mountainy stringed instruments that are slipped in almost unnoticed, yet tick the box every time. This is a band that I would pay to sit front row and still holler for more at the end. ‘Nuff Said.


TRUE NORTH: Elsebound

True North: Elsebound

True North
True North

Particularly in the “Internet Age” of the past twenty years or so, the discussion of what is and what is not “bluegrass” has pushed the boundaries of the music to the point that we pretty much have a spectrum these days ranging from the diehard purists at one end, who say that if it doesn’t sound like Monroe, then, as Big Mon himself would have said, “It ain’t no part of nothin’,” to the ultra-contemporarians for whom, as long as it’s (mostly) all-acoustic and has a banjo here or there, sure, it’s bluegrass. That the True North folks consider themselves, from a marketing perspective at least, to be a bluegrass band is evident from the fact that their website is Exactly where along that spectrum they fit in is open to discussion, but given the fact that the publicity material accompanying Elsebound contains terms like “indie-bluegrass” (whatever that means) and, yes, “contemporary” is pretty indicative. So, for those whose musical tastes lean exclusively toward blazing three-finger licks and high, searing tenor vocals, then True North is probably not a band that will satisfy those needs.

What they are is an acoustic quartet (two couples, Kristen Grainger and Dan Wetzel, with Dale Adkins and Suzanne Pearce) with a clear sense of who they are, where they want to go, and how they want to get there. While there are all too many “real” bluegrass bands that are all too willing to engage in the democratic “every band member gets a lead vocal” scheme of things and sacrifice musical coherency as long as everyone, including the bass player gets their share of solo breaks, there is nothing haphazard about the thirteen selections on Elsebound. These folks know exactly what they want to sound like, and they’ve achieved it nicely here.

The keystone of that sound is Grainger, whose only instrument is her voice, a slightly husky soprano, tending toward the alto range, that is sweet and vibrant yet contains inflections that will remind many bluegrass fans of Kate MacKenzie, or even Iris DeMent. At the risk of beating the “spectrum” metaphor to death, it is still a sin among many of the purists for a band member, female or male, to be a vocalist only and not play an instrument, but Grainger’s got all she needs to make it work. Wetzel adds an occasional, subtle banjo backdrop, but mostly plays a fluid rhythm guitar. Adkins is an experienced flatpicker who has a few hot breaks, but is more noticeable for his tasteful fills and accents. Pearce, on bass, is likewise restrained while staying nicely away from the 1-5 rut. As a whole, they’re sometimes jazzy, but not really a jazz band; bluesy at times, but not a blues band. And no, probably not really a bluegrass band.

Grainger is also the writer of eight of the thirteen tracks, and covers a lot of territory. “Angelfish” seems vaguely allegorical in a Biblical sense, while the following track “The Poet and the Carpenter” has absurdist elements reminiscent – to at least one listener – of Douglas Adams and his Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. “Be Here Now” is the story of a lifelong love affair lived out to a Beatles soundtrack, while “Come & See What I Got For You” is flirtatious and playful. “Shiny Black Shoes” comes closest to straight-up bluegrass. The one hiccup comes on “BFD”, a Don Henry/Craig Carothers song popularized by Kathy Mattea. Yes, “BFD” means what you think it does, but it’s never explicitly sung, and the song is radio-friendly. It’s a clever ditty about a love affair told through the acronyms that have become an inescapable part of our lives, and the version here, while not bad, just doesn’t seem to have quite the same life and verve as the rest of the disc.

Whether or not True North is a bluegrass band is really beside the point. They’re a talented, stylish, experienced quartet performing intelligently and entertainingly arranged acoustic music, and doing it very well.


True North – Elsebound

For the first few decades of bluegrass music, it tended to lean toward the high, lonesome sound invented by Bill Monroe, or an old-timey vibe like the Carter Family or the Osborne Brothers. Then in the 70′s a few artists emerged that pushed the boundaries of the genre; John Hartford, New Grass Revival, Hot Rize, to name a few. Hot Rize in particular managed to bring a relatively polished sound that was more listenable to an audience less familiar with back roads twang. Listening to the latest album from True North I got that same feeling. CallElsebounda gateway drug to hard bluegrass music.

Primary songwriter Kristen Grainger also takes the lead on vocals for much of the album. Her clear, warm voice brings the same kind of richness and familiarity to songs likeTwist In the WindandHard Placethat have made Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss so popular. Vocally, the crowning achievement of the disc isOne Voice. Starting with just Grainger and a simple ukelele accompaniment the song builds by adding each member of the group until you get the full 4-part harmony and instrumentation, before finishing with just the one voice. Showing her versatility, she also belts out a fine, fine traditional-sounding number withShiny Black Shoes.

Another one of the appeals of Elsebound is that it keeps you listening with not just the virtuosity within individual songs, but also the variety across the album. In addition to the typical bluegrass elements, the band veers into a jazzy vein with Come And See What I Got For You. They cover a catchy Don Henry tune, BFD, that’s an ode to TLA’s. Rattlin’ Bones, a Shane Nicholson/Kasey Chambers composition, is kind of hard to describe, but when I checked out the original I certainly like this interpretation better. They even take some inspiration from 70′s California country rock sound with The Poet And the Carpenter.

From the first time I listened to Elsebound I had the feeling that I’d heard it before. And yet most of the album is new songs from Grainger, so it just seems that way. The end effect, then, is one of presenting not just what bluegrass is, but what it can be.


Written by Joe Ross
Roots Music Report CD Reviews

October 13, 2014 – 12:00am EDT

Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star

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 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)


Contemporary bluegrass quartet True North soar on ‘Elsebound’

True North‘Elsebound’
True North (self-released)
4 stars out of 5

Oregon-based bluegrass quartet True North have the type of chemistry you’d expect from a band made up of two sets of married couples in Kristen Grainger & Dan Wetzel and Dale Adkins & Suzanne Pearce Adkins. True North take full advantage of that chemistry on terrific new full-length “Elsebound,” a 13-track collection of twangy gems.

Working the guy-girl vocal dynamic to perfection, True North soar highest on keepers “Hard Place,” “Be Here Now,” “Twist in the Wind,” “The Poet & The Carpenter,” “Shiny Black Shoes,” “BFD” and “Come See What I Got for You.” This is contemporary bluegrass at its very finest. (Jeffrey Sisk, for Pittsburg in tune))




Hearth Music May 19, 2014

“We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trod,” reflected Meriwether Lewis on entering the Pacific Northwest. “The good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine.” With these words Lewis set forth the cultural foundation of the Pacific Northwest: a drive to explore and to tread further. It’s a cue taken seriously by Pacific Northwest indie-bluegrass quartet TRUE NORTH on their most recent release, ELSEBOUND, an American roots exploration of the unknown territory of love and loss.

Hailing from Salem, Oregon, True North is made up of two married couples: principle songwriter Kristen Grainger & Dan Wetzel, and Dale Adkins & Suzanne Pearce Adkins. The songs on their newest album, Elsebound, lay a roots music foundation so smooth and solid you could just about pitch a tent and call it home.

All seasoned bluegrass musicians, True North are anything but showy. Their skill lies in their ability to make complex instrumentation sound effortless, exemplifying the pinnacle of modern bluegrass. “What many groups lose in the fire of lightning-fast solos, True North exemplifies with style and artistry,” says roots music writer and No Depression editor Kim Ruehl. Their arrangements are woven together with Grainger’s poetic and visual lyrics, giving the songs a rare sense of emotional transcendence and power that grabs the heart and pulls it out to sea like the mighty Columbia River. Grainger’s songwriting and songcraft has garnered top honors at Wintergrass, and finalist spots at Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Kerrville Folk Festival song competitions. Elsebound begins with Dan Wetzel’s banjo, a crisp yet gentle tone that opens up an expanse like that which once stood before Lewis & Clark, soon entered by Grainger’s vocals. On “Rattlin’ Bones,” Grainger’s smooth voice invites like a siren to the deep, tight, underlying power of the Adkins’ bass and guitar. And while true to their bluegrass traditions, True North aren’t afraid to fold popular work into their music, having been known to reimagine rock songs with their unique musical perspective during live performances, or referencing the Beatles in Elsebound’s “Be Here Now,” a heartfelt song chronicling the story of two lovers from their honeymoon until death. Closing out the album is the sublime “Acceptance,” an original tune by Grainger, in which repeated listens reveal layer after layer of complex instrumentation so well crafted you’re convinced you’ve known this song since you were a kid, but had simply forgotten it until now.

True North blaze new territory in contemporary bluegrass, not trying to reinvent the wheel, but simply traveling a bit further than others might dare to go. With every chord change they take another step deeper into the frontier. With one listen to Elsebound, you’ll want to see where True North go next.


True North General Reviews

Salem, Oregon’s True North play tunes so smooth they bring to mind bluegrass-pop artists like Alison Krauss and Union Station, as well as old country legends like Hank Williams, Sr. Employing all the musical specifics of the bluegrass genre, True North embarks on instrumental solos with earnestness and humility.
One of the strongest songs on the album, “Til I Have You,” is a heartfelt love song, stating simply, “I got nothing to my name but a strong desire.” Vocalist Kristen Grainger sings with such poise and clarity that her vocals hold their own strong place among the supporting instruments. Tim Darby and Dale Adkins roll into their deliberate guitar solos with absolute ease, while bassist Suzanne Pearce keeps the beat pumping sweetly in the background.
From there, True North moves into great original bluegrass tunes like “Sweet Desiree” before veering into another direction with “Limbo” halfway through the disc. Here, the bass line drives the tune and the harmonies that pepper the chorus are followed appropriately by the sweet longing of a brief guitar solo. The song ends with a line that most country songwriters would kill to have written: “She’s in limbo between a stone and a state of grace.”
Grainger’s lyrics are introspective, capturing bits of small town life in vignettes that are purposeful and infectious. True North is able to veer from its bluegrass influences to embrace country-pop balladry with open arms. What many groups lose in the fire of lightning-fast solos, True North exemplifies with style and artistry. (Self-released)
Kim Ruehl, West Coast Performer Magazine

“They [True North] are the perfect modern bluegrass band… Focusing around the terrific lead vocals of Kristen Grainger, the band shows what can happen when great songs meet great singers… This is a band making wonderful musical choices. They are going deeper than mere instrumental wind sprints and reworked standards. Highly recommended.”
Grammy-nominee Kate McKenzie

“Kristen [Grainger]’s vocalizing exhibits the intensity of a singer with breathtaking ability comparable to Laurie Lewis… The band is emerging in the Northwest as one of the most endearing and passionate contributors to the Northwest’s acoustic folk repertoire. Their craftsmanship and focus squarely put the emphasis on original material, deliberative arrangements, graceful guitar, and gorgeous vocals.”
Joe Ross staff writer, Bluegrass Now

“The band sounds quite good, and [Kristen Grainger’s] singing is lovely.”
Laurie Lewis, Grammy award-winning artist

“True North’s Pluck proves that you don’t need a big label or large budget to produce a fine album with first class sound. If you like your folk or bluegrass with a mellifluous edge, give True North’s Pluck a listen.”
Steven Stone Vintage Guitar Magazine

“By far the strongest point of this band is the songwriting of members Kristen Grainger and Dan Wetzel, putting up four more great tunes this CD. ‘Til I Have You is a great opening song, tasty and very easy on the ears. Next is an excellent rendition of KD Lang’s Luck In My Eyes, right on and cool. Desiree McRae is a cooking bluegrass tune with guest Keith Arneson on the 5-string, drivin’ right along. What a neat groove the band finds on Friday Night, soooo cookin’… a perfect ending for a fine CD… Pluck is a hot CD with an excellent mix of bluegrass and near-bluegrass tunes with excellent recording values.”
Uptown Bluegrass

“Kristen Grainger and Dan Wetzel share in the lead vocals and are especially effective on “’Til I Have You” and “Friday Night.” In all, “Pluck” is a pleasant assortment of contemporary bluegrass that should expand the musical reputation of True North.”
Bluegrass Unlimited