Abbey Masonbrink “Rising”

Independent, 2024

Artwork for Abbey Masonbrink album "Rising"

Traditional sound meets modern on this eerie, haunting debut album.

Artwork for Abbey Masonbrink album "Rising"Abbey Masonbrink is a banjo-playing bluegrass artist from Lawrence, Kansas; she originally learned to play the banjo in a traditional bluegrass style; however she has subsequently developed her own alternative style of playing, which is quite different. ‘Rising‘ is Masonbrink’s debut LP.

The sound on ‘Rising‘ could be somewhat difficult to pin down; it’s definitely bluegrass, and in common with much bluegrass, the banjo is the prominent instrument, however what the banjo plays tends to be repetitive, hypnotic riffs, while other instruments such as violin create a mysterious, even creepy sound, topped off by Masonbrink’s haunting vocals; there are also electronic sounds to throw into the mix. So, it’s a case of traditional sound meets modern sound and in some cases it’s an uneasy alliance. Whereas on something like The Chicks’ ‘Sleep at Night‘ from the ‘Gaslighter‘ LP, where the banjo drives the song, leads the melody and it all fits together seamlessly, here the banjo riffs sometimes seem to distract the listener from the melody.

Much of the work to develop this album has been done within the studio with the producer, Rob Pope (who was a member of the rock band The Get Up Kids), heavily involved. The sound is made up of several layers that have been painstakingly put together to create a deliberate overall sound which is consistent across all of the tracks here. The album evolved through the recording and production process, from minimal banjo-centric folk to what is described as a form of prairie art pop. Pope also plays bass on the album. Pope’s younger brother Ryan Pope (also of The Get Up Kids) contributes drums and percussion, as does Spenser Gralla (of indie rock duo Sweeping Promises) on some tracks, while Will Henricksen (of country rock band Florry) contributes violin.

Can Your Hear Me‘ sets the tone from the outset; lyrically and vocally it sounds like something that could have been recorded by post-punk band Delta 5 at the end of the 1970s; the lyrics lean towards the abstract, which is the case throughout the album. The first single from the record ‘Smoke Rising‘ is another banjo-led offering, featuring violin and vocals with heavy echo to create an eerie sound. The second single ‘Ride‘ is slightly more up-tempo and again features haunting, hypnotic banjo riffs.

Interlude‘ offers a slight change; it has interesting percussion rhythms on top of the banjo and no words as such; Masonbrink’s voice is used as another instrument, as it is on ‘Stella in the Sky‘. ‘Don’t Look Back‘ is one of the tracks where the overall soundscape works well, with the violin in particular effectively adding atmosphere to the sound. The record ends with two highlights; a cover of the Hank Williams classic ‘I Saw the Light‘ and closing track ‘Great Unknown‘.

If you enjoy banjo playing then this record is well worth a listen, particularly if you approach it with an open mind. However it’s clearly intended to be different, and it succeeds in that aim.


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