Kristen Grainger & True North “Fear of Falling Stars”

Independent, 2023

A set of sometimes very personal bluegrass-based songs that highlight why the group are multiple-award winners.

Fear of Falling Stars is subtitled: “From arson and avalanches to love and loggerheads in 10 songs”. Grainger further describes the feel she is looking to convey as “poets that pick”. On first song, a ballad ‘Don’t Take Me Back’ the emphasis is on the poetry. ‘Go-Nowhere Town’ is more typically bluegrass, but with the modern country vibe of Alison Kraus’s solo work.

A former speechwriter for two Oregon governors, Grainger co-founded True North with her husband, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Dan Wetzel. ‘Extraordinary Grace’, described as introspective and wistful is of the more restrained type of bluegrass. Wetzel’s Mandola and voice lead ‘Memories and Moments’, with exquisite harmonies from the whole group.

Alternating ballads and more up-tempo songs take us to ‘Across the Mountains’, which they say has “an old-timey vibe for a Hell-hath-no-fury tale of betrayal, revenge and escape”. Wetzel says: “My favourite tune to write for this album was It’s the Little Things, letting the world know how much I love Kristen, how lucky I feel to be sharing this life with her – to me, the little things are the big things.” A midtempo song that he sings himself, it is one of the standout songs here. The promised ‘Avalanche’ turns out to be a love song that is “so fresh and heartwarming, even confirmed cynics might be persuaded to hold out for true love.”

Pent Up’ tries to take the traditional bluegrass instrumental somewhere new. It’s brave and quirky and an avenue worth pursuing for the band. Despite Grainger’s name being front and centre Wetzel sings lead on several songs. ‘What Might Have Been’ has a jazzy, western swing feel to it. ‘Stop Me If I Told You This Before’ finishes the album with a solo vocal from Grainger with just guitar to back her up. Almost Janis Ian in style.

While the spirit of Union Station looms large on this album the changes in singer and variations in the writing styles stop this being a soundalike, and an entertaining listen which will stand coming back to.


About Tim Martin 218 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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