Meet the latest newgrass supergroup. This is what happens when you put Andy Statman, Michael Cleveland and Tim O’Brien together in the same room – good grief! Much of this album, Superstring Theory, with Statman as bandleader, is flat-out gorgeous, cutting-edge Americana. Jim Whitney, Statman’s longtime four-string guy holds down the low end with Larry Eagle on drums on a mix of Statman originals plus vocal takes of the droll folk tune Green Green Rocky Road and Richie Valens’ proto-Ramones hit Come On Let’s Go. Statman’s signature sense of humor pervades pretty much everything here when he and the rest of the band aren’t burning down the barn. The instrumentation may be mostly acoustic, but this is not a quiet album.
There are more unexpected treats here than you can shake a stick at. On the opening track, Little Addy, it’s not Statman’s mandolin but Cleveland’s fiddle that ends up taking the dancing tune into funky, practically avant-garde territory. Statman saves his first series of crazed spirals for Mando at the Flambo after O’Brien’s guitar introduces it as a boogie blues. Careful dynamic shifts move up and down throughout the pretty, midtempo blue-sky ballad For Barbara, followed by The French Press, where O’Brien offers hints of flamenco as Statman blows the roof off with his Djangoesque sprints.
Herman Howe’s Bayou, an exuberant fiddle-driven cajun country waltz, is flat-out gorgeous; O’Brien’s low-register hammer-ons fueling one of the album’s most exquisite interludes. Then they launch into Surfin Slivovitz: Eagle gets the surf beat down cold, Whitney plays genre-perfect broken chords, O’Brien’s electric guitar adds some understatedly moody twang, and Cleveland turns out to be as good a surf player as he is at everything else. Statman, as usual, is the wild card. This song should be a standard.
Waltz for Ari is unexpectedly sad and resigned, all the more so through Statman’s almost tenative picking as it fades down morosely. Then they pick up the pace again with Pale Ale Hop, alternating between a jaunty waltz and a funky Tex-Mex theme. House of the Screaming Babies brings back a wry, bluesy interplay; Statman wails on clarinet on the album’s longest and final track, Brooklyn London Rome. which begins as an oompah waltz, then smooths out with more of a country (or Brooklyn, if you will) flavor, then without warning segues into a smoldering klezmer dance that gives the bandleader a chance to flex his chops. Statman’s next NYC gig is on December 3 at 53 Charles St. just west of Hudson in the west village.