THE STETSON FAMILY ‘The Devil in His Sunday Best’

Reviewed by Alex Morton

Damn but I love good handclaps. And banjos. And Nad Budge’s voice. So when I stuck the brand new Stetson Family album in the player and all of the above came flying out of the speakers, one after the other, I got a bit excited. And around 38 minutes and 11 great songs later I was grinning like a fool.

The Stetsons play progressive bluegrass with a healthy dose of country and folk-influenced music, and like Pennsylvanians Jim and Jennie & The Pinetops, they maintain a respect for the traditions of the genre without being constrained by them.

Anchored by Nadine Budge’s vocals, dobro, and considerable songwriting talents, the Stetson Family also features John Bartholomeusz , who contributes several great songs and on-the-button acoustic guitar leads; Colin Swan and Andrew Carswell play banjo and mandolin respectively, and Luke Richardson holds it all down with the bull-fiddle.

One of the real strengths of this album is the strength of the songs – all originals with the exception of Jean Ritchie’s classic tale of economics catching up with traditional mining – “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” (nicely juxtaposed by John and Colin’s narrative “Smokey Valley”) and Nad’s old partner-in- crime Marni Sheehan’s gorgeous and heartfelt “Devil Call Your Name”. Highlights include “Oh Winding River”, an elegiac classic with guest vocals by co-writer Tracey McNeil, a reminder of what a great singer (and writer) she truly is. And harmonies? Listen to the outro, with the whole band and  guests singing loud and proud, all air and breath, perfect unison –it’s a great moment. And Nadine proves herself the equal of anyone when it comes to heartbreaking honesty with “Traces Of You” – “there’s traces of you in every corner I turn/And you’re there in the ashes of every bridge that I’ve burned.” It sounds like the best song that Mary Gauthier never wrote. And like a true mandolin player, Andrew Carswell nails “Every Dusty Road.” “Old Black Canoe” keeps coming back to haunt me – is it the six white horses, or the long black Cadillac, the harbingers of our time on this earth? Whatever, it’s a great and very affecting song! And of course Nadine takes it out in irreverent style with “Dirty Rotten Lowdown Cheatin’ Sonofabitch”.

So there’s no flashy trends or fancy hats here (some very nice shirts though!) – just a great set of songs played with great feel and great honesty by a bunch of people who are obviously joined by the sheer joy and love of making good music together.

The Stetson Family album launch is this Sunday 23rd October at the Penny Black, Brunswick 4pm $10


Live Review: The Stetson Family at Retreat Hotel, Brunswick (9 April 2011)

Every time I’m in the front bar at the Retreat, the wood paneled walls, rowdy crowd and 70s light fittings make me feel like I’m in a bar in Fargo, North Dakota. So much so that I’m always disappointed when I get outside and discover that it’s not snowing.

Showing up to chase away our rainy autumn blues tonight are local knockabouts The Stetson Family.  As frontwoman Nad Budge is always quick to point out, The Stetson Family aren’t actually related, although the light-hearted ribbing going on onstage – mainly directed at mandolin player Andy Carswell – suggests otherwise.

I like to think of these folks as modern bluegrass. Their harmonies are tight, and the banjo (ably wielded by Colin Swan), mandolin and acoustic guitar trade effortless solos. Luke Richardson’s energetic upright bass and sky-high harmonies are a treat, and Budge’s sweet dobro playing lends a mournful tone to the down-tempo numbers.

In between rousing renditions of favourites like “Hey Sister Mary, Where’d You Get That Gun?” and new tune “Fool’s Gold”, Budge and co-frontperson (is that a word?)  John Bartholomeusz reported that the group’s first full-length album is nearing completion.

Budge spotted several fellow musos in the room, and cheekily invited everyone who has an album coming out this year to raise their hands. More than a few arms shot up, confirming that it is indeed an exciting year ahead in Melbourne town.

We loved it, the punters loved it, and we can’t wait for The Stetsons’ new album!