Album Review: Lost in the Fog (Brett Bass and Melted Plectrum)
As the founding member and leader of Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, Brett Bass made a name for himself as a blazing flatpicker and winner of the Rockygrass flatpicking competition. The band defined a genre known as “outlaw bluegrass… lots of dark (and occasionally violent) humor with metal overtones, and furious picking.” After a several-years hiatus that found him playing guitar with the Travelin’ McCourys, Bass has put together a new band, Melted Plectrum, and their first album is due to drop on August 16th.
The album, Lost in the Fog, maintains the masterful picking but goes in a different direction thematically. There’s a thread of social responsibility in a number of songs on this album, all of which were written by Bass. “There Could Come a Time” addresses environmental concerns and stresses personal responsibility. “Things You Can’t Take Back” is a cautionary tale, and “American Violence” decries school violence, the displacement of Native Americans, and the “world police” war machine. The use of minor chords in the latter two songs provides a solemnity that fits perfectly with the lyrics. “Goodbye Notes” is an introspective view of a troubled man who manages to turn things around at the last minute. The title song leans toward the allegorical: a captain lost at sea and knowing he’s at risk but unable to do anything about it.
That’s not to say the album is a dirge-like downer; it’s not. There’s still plenty of humor and skillful picking. “Light It Up” is a scorcher about a drug bust. Joey Lazio’s mandolin break is red-hot, and Bass’s guitar break is jaw-dropping. “A-Sexual Blues” is a rowdy take on ‘30s and ‘40s innuendo-based blues songs. “How Long…” is anchored by Benny McDowell’s solid banjo and could easily be a Flatt and Scruggs song, with fine traditional three-part harmonies and Rex Putnam’s solid bass lines keeping things straight. “Looking Glass Falls” is an Irish-leaning instrumental that suddenly changes tempo halfway through. The closing number, “Chuck Night Night” is a red-hot sprint with mind-bending expertise. Bass, Lazio and McDowell essentially show us what they can do, and it’s pretty damn good. The banjo and mandolin fills and back-ups throughout the album are downright impressive.
This album represents a change in a more personal direction for Bass, but it has only broadened the appeal of his music. His supporting cast is up to the task; Lazio and McDowell may be new to the national scene, but they can play with anyone, and this album demonstrates that. The variety of songs and the instrumental virtuosity makes this an album that warrants a listen. Don’t pass it up.
A CD release party for the new album is scheduled at Mojo Kitchen, 1500 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville, Florida, on August 16 at 10 p.m.