New York bluegrass that references bitcoin but is more traditional than you may think
Cole Quest is in fact Cole Quest Rotante, a sometime software engineer from New York who has a love of bluegrass. He has brought together a group of friends who share his passion, and they have gained quite a reputation in New York for energetic shows and the ability to catch that high lonesome sound. ‘Self [EN] Titled’ is Cole Quest and The City Pickers new EP containing 6 tracks and over 23 minutes of music released on Omnivore Recordings. Not only have they got themselves a contract with a proper record label, they were produced by three-time Grammy-winning producer Steve Rosenthal at his famed independent Manhattan-based Magic Shop studios, clear evidence that while the music is fun to listen to, they are serious about it. One last thing, Cole Quest is actually the grandson of Woody Guthrie, therefore he has more of a pedigree than most New Yorkers playing roots music but, as always, being the offspring of a famous musician is not always easy and he is careful not to make too much of his family lineage.
The primary songwriter is Cole Quest and he also plays resonator guitar, and he is accompanied by Christian Apuzzo guitar, Mile Mulhollan banjo, Matheus Verardino harmonica and Larry Cook bass, while a few friends drop by on keyboards and drums to help flesh out the sound on a few tracks. The EP gets off to a bluegrassy start with ‘Ostrich Therapy’ with banjo and harmonica to the fore. Before anyone says something, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs and The Stanley Brothers all recorded with a harmonica from time to time so this is nothing new. Next up is an update on that old country, folk and bluegrass tradition, the gambler song. ‘Bitcoin Gambler’ is about Cole Quest’s own experiences with bitcoin, and if the reference to Trump’s presidency sounds a bit historical, then that is probably due to the fact the EP was recorded at the beginning of 2020 before COVID and when Trump was rampant. You can’t ignore your grandfather all the time, so next up is ‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ which is a song first recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco and is a Bragg Guthrie co-write. Here it is given an old-time arrangement reflecting the history of the musical genre. The instrumental ‘7-11 / Foggy Mountain Rock’ again has a historical perspective as it looks back to the music of Flatt and Scruggs, Jim & Jesse and other founding fathers of the bluegrass genre. The EP closes with ‘My Sweet Little Girl’ and ‘If I Still Had You’, both songs that have a more pop-orientated sound and could introduce a wider listening public to the music of Cole Quest and The City Pickers.
There we have it, an enjoyable EP from a band that clearly knows and loves the bluegrass tradition, but are also capable of putting their own stamp on the music. With the professional help of Steve Rosenthal, their music could also have a wider appeal than their current New York fanbase. If you enjoy good time music and have an interest in bluegrass and its ongoing development then you could do worse than to give ‘Self [EN] Titled’ by Cole Quest and The City Pickers a listen.