For over a decade now The Woodshedders have plied their trade in the southern Appalachians, offering a new take on American country, old-time and gypsy jazz. O Dig sees them enlist the assistance of a number of contributors from their region, and together they serve up a potent mix of authentic sounds and backwoods lyricism.
That’s clear on the opener, “Badger Blood”, a kind of Steve Earle crossed with Del McCoury number with a fluid fiddle line. The pace is subsequently maintained with “Narwhal”, a campfire-style instrumental par excellence; it features astonishingly fast picking throughout and is gloriously atmospheric.
“Slipping Through” is somewhere between a country two-step and a reggae groove. Despite this bizarre marriage of musical stylings it works extremely well. The album’s standout track, however, has to be “Virginia’s Fair Daughters”, a wonderful, narrative waltz that would be equally at home on an early John Prine record.
Dylan aficionados might, on first listen, take umbrage at “Sand Grain”. It begins life in the unmistakeable groove of the troubadour’s Highway 61-era line-up and, it soon becomes apparent, is virtually a note-for-note lift of “Tombstone Blues”. However, it’s good-natured stuff and even name-checks the great man as it unfolds. Replete with machine-gun vocal delivery and excellent, instrumental turns, it is perhaps the most light-hearted song on offer. Mention should also be made of “Chicken to Change” – a bluegrass hip-hop number. Despite the clear oxymoron and notions that such a musical approach would surely end in disaster, the track itself defies expectations and is wholly engaging.
Throughout proceedings The Woodshedders wear their influences and the pride they clearly have of their region on their sleeves. Performance-wise this is a great record. However, as with so many other backwoods bluegrass workouts, stellar musicianship is not enough to make it stand out from the crowd. Where this album truly shines is on the material that incorporates other musical styles and genres while somehow managing to remain beneath the bluegrass umbrella. It’s well worth a listen; where the roots are strong the fruit is sweet.