Published Apr 06, 2016There's a coastal vibe to the Unseen Strangers' latest album, Stranger Places, which at first seems strange (pun intended), given that the self-described "newgrass" group calls Toronto home. Upon closer inspection, the East Coast connection makes sense; bandleader Adam Shier honed his chops going to school in Halifax and formed the group there, even winning a Music Nova Scotia Award in 2009 for Bluegrass/Country Album of the Year.
But there's more to the Unseen Strangers than coastal-inspired, traditional bluegrass. The album kicks off with a five-minute-long instrumental track that starts off trad-like and completely changes tone midway through with an almost Spanish influence and some stellar mandolin, guitar and banjo shredding that sounds straight out of Tennessee. Shier's vocals weave their way into second track "Wicked Lover," a fast and furious angst-love ballad. There are some solid backing harmonies from the other group members, which could be a little more at the forefront for more of that true bluegrass sound, but the group winds up defying genres, especially on tracks like "Old City Jail," which includes a prominent horn section, and "Square Trance," which ends with some prog-rock-esque riffs and key changes.
There are tracks for the traditionalists out there, too: "New Railroad Blues" just screams deep South, while "Backstairs" and "The Best I Can Do" both belong at an East Coast kitchen party, the latter having a sea-shanty feel.
Despite all the genre jumping, there's something that keeps the album together, stops it from suffering from an identity crisis, and makes you want to hit replay; while relatively new to the scene, the band members are skilled instrumentalists and navigate these strange musical places, where bluegrass meets newgrass, with poise. (Independent)