Grand Ole’ Ditch
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Band Members: Ryan Hohing - guitar; Jacob Mathews - bass; Lucas Mathews - mandolin; Craig Miller - banjo; Jody Mosser - dobro; “Fiddlin' Ray” Bruckman - fiddle; Todd Hocherl - drums
For those of you who don’t know them, Grand Ole’ Ditch are one talented group of gents from Cumberland, MD, hell bent on delivering up some mighty fine bluegrass. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing them play live a few times now and, I admit freely, I enjoyed every single note thoroughly. Their studio offerings before now have been extremely solid works, putting out the EP In the Tall, Tall Grass in 2013 and following with the full length album, Big Red Ball, in 2014 whose opening track, “Pigeon Eatin’ Catfish”, was a favorite around The Lot Scene offices for quite some town (and still is). Well, Unwind certainly picks up where those recordings left off and makes some progressive leaps into the band’s future as well. According to their website, Ditch is “all about having some new fun with that old Appalachian sound.” That feeling couldn’t be more apropos or palpable than with their new album. With selections that range from hard drivin’, fast pickin old school bluegrass to ones that swing and groove with some rock and a little roll, Unwind is the type of album that will surely entertain, enliven, and enrich those who take a listen or, better yet, become steadfast fans of the work. However, I do believe you came here to read about the music, right? Well then, by all means, let us get to precisely that!
The first song out of the gate also happens to the be the title track of the album, “Unwind”. With it’s quiet, slowly but steadily building introduction peppered with laughing voices and spoken conversation, the Ditch boys seek to gently open up their new musical world to the listener before tearing things apart just short while later with the song proper, a very nice juxtaposition that really serves to illustrate Grand Ole’ Ditch’s unique style. Craig Miller takes the lead vocals in this one, serving us an all-too-familiar tale of simply desiring to relax with a friendly libation after a long day or week or life at work. He also serves up some really fine banjo styling to accompany his singing. However, the ensemble work in “Unwind” is also supremely lovely, with members of the band stepping out on their instruments to take the melody line only to fade back and allow the next gentleman his chance. An expert dance well executed and so very easy on the ears. Not a bad start, fellas. Certainly impressed. The band takes “Unwind” directly into the next track, “Whippoorwill”, which is a Lucas Mathews lead. Lightly and lively the song transitions from the previous into love song landscape of excellent vocal harmonies and superb instrumental efforts. One such instrumental was “Fiddlin’ Ray’s” fantastic solo in the mid section of the song. Bravo. Bands with multiple vocalists always have the potential for a distinct advantage in my opinion, in that they have opportunity for a unique and different sound from singer to singer. Ditch is just such a band and they certainly seem to make full and effective use of this benefit. Songs like “Unwind” into Whippoorwill” are absolutely illustrative of this point. Again, so far, so great. “Chester’s Breakdown” is an original instrumental piece written by Jody Mosser about his “fluffy orange cat” so I heard. Inspiration springs from all directions it would seem and Chester must be one awesome cat to have given rise to this frenetic and fun fast pickin’ power piece. Everyone gets the opportunity at being awesome in this one with each member of the band taking turns at that sweet, sweet solo spot. “Fiddlin’ Ray” throws down some mighty bow strokes, Luke’s mando solo is spot on, quick and melodic, Craig on banjo is just magnificent making way for Jody to rock his dobro for the listener. Then Ryan busts out some nasty good guitar, too, why not? Just to keep things incredible, I suppose, right? Jacob, as always, nailing that phatty, phatty bass line, keeping those chords rooted and in check. Awesome. Not to mention Todd Hocherl on the drums, kicking things metronomic and full of that G.O.D. vim and vigor. A vivacious and truly fun run through some bluegrass, “Chester’s” is one of my standout favorites from Unwind and I bet it will be one for you, too. Craig is back up to the mic for “Pick Me Up” which follows “Chester’s”. This one is all about the woes of modern relationship trials and travails: “you pick me up just to put me down again.” For such seemingly negative subject matter, the energy of the song belies any sadness as things stay a bit tongue-in-cheek. Loved Jody’s dobro in this one, from the small solo to the ever present timbre of that amazing instrument. “Long to Come Home to Thee” opens with a classic Western feeling, swinging and hearkening back to the days of golden era cowboy music, booted feet dancing the night away under large hats and an even larger night of stars. No doubt this one is fun and bounces along with a carefree feeling that sweeps you right along with it. “Fiddlin’ Ray” provides both the vocals and some sweet fiddle throughout although, I am particularly fond of Craig’s lovely banjo solo which bled directly into some mando love from Luke all right back to Ray once more on fiddle. A really lovely round robin to be sure all punctuated by Todd’s stalwart drums, Todd even taking a nice solo moment himself. Certainly a delightful feeling of falling back into musical yesteryear. I really liked the next piece, “Copper Kettle Coal”, a Craig-led song with a real newgrass feel to it, high energy and with a bit of rock’n’roll attitude. More tight vocal harmonies are waiting for you in this one to accompany the driving force behind it. Expect a nice twist in the bridge section when things slow down to an intensely mellow pace reminiscent of some classic Pink Floyd only to speed things slowly back up again through a channel of upbeat percussion and some really fine musicianship. Plainly put, “Copper Kettle Coal” is a supremely enjoyable ride through many interesting musical vignettes throughout the course of the song. “This Time” opens up immediately with an electrified sound and electricity of its own that instantly separates it from “Copper Kettle” before. Jody is our man for vocals on this track laying those down alongside his superior dobro skills. Certainly a bit more rocked out than the others, it might come as no surprise that this one had a .moe feeling to it in all the right ways. Additionally I must address the seriously great ensemble sound presented here. All instruments and instrumentalists in concert with one another to the point of making some staggeringly great music. Excellence. Then it’s time for more fast pickin’ in ‘reel time’ with “Dragon’s Breath” but with a bit of swing mixed in for good measure. Excellent work from everyone all around on this track which was written by Ray. The trade off of melody and solo from man to man is deftly executed and resounds well throughout the tune. Of particular enjoyment for me was Jody's guitar solo — there is just something raw and organic about it that lends something special to the piece. Bravi to one and all, however, for this is one fun jaunt through some polished up bluegrass to be sure. Jody Mosser takes the vocal reigns again for the next song, “Baby Jane”. This one has a bit of a “saloon grass” sense to it mixed in with some New Orleans to boot. Ever present is that welcome sound of Jody’s dobro with some other fine soloing from folks like Craig and Lucas and “Fiddlin’ Ray” on their respective instruments. “…send me on down that highway, sweet Baby Jane.” On down the highway, indeed. Which brings us to the last song of Unwind: “Foolish Pride”. Craig leads this final, hard drivin’, fast pickin’ number for us both on vocals and banjo. Ditch seemed to put the best of everything they are into this one: incredible instrumental work, tight harmonies, huge energy. Suffice it to say, “Foolish Pride” is a big, big ending for an album that is certainly big enough itself. Ryan and Craig share a really great moment of duet in the middle which is pretty special. Stupendous work, gents! What a ride…so thankful for such an excellent album being put out into our community!
So, are you ready to Unwind with a little Grand Ole’ Ditch now? I sincerely hope that you will enjoy their new album as much as I have. And, you won’t have to wait too long because their official release is next Friday at DelFest in Cumberland, their hometown. Pretty awesome, right? Keep your eyes peeled for Unwind after Friday and then your ears unpeeled for it ever afterwards. I reckon you’ll be rather pleased. Thanks to Grand Ole’ Ditch for the new music!! Thanks for reading, friends!!