The recent IBMA newsletter suggests that one way to attract more young listeners to bluegrass music is to take a hint from the success of jam bands like Phish and the Dave Matthews Band. That approach can be a smashing success when the band has something musical to say, and it can be a crashing bore when the band can only emulate the length of the songs and not the instrumental prowess of the best of the genre.
I can’t tell if it’s their intention or not, but on Songs, Tunes, & Riddles, the Flying Mules are clearly following that path. This is a long recording – 14 songs totaling over 67 minutes – with most of those songs clocking in at over 4 minutes, including a 7 minute live version of Paddy On The Turnpike. Every track seems to have an extended jam stuck on the end. This succeeds admirably to a point, although that much instrumental repetition on one recording tends to lose some focus. The Flying Mules are competent pickers though, and their choice of material is broad and thoughtful, more old-timey and acoustic country than bluegrass (Hey! No banjo!), with a good mix of originals, obscure covers and only a couple of well-worn, familiar tunes.
Jamgrass may or may not be your particular cup of tea, but the Flying Mules give a good sample of what it’s all about. It’s an interesting listen and, like most jam bands, I’ll bet they’re even more fun to see live.