A solid groove
Mutineers’ ‘Coal Creek’ charges through old & new
By William Earl

Although Southern Maine is sometimes dismissed by those upstate as an extended arm of big-city Boston, one of the state’s most tightest down-home roots groups is headquartered in this region. The Mutineers, an acoustic trio of seasoned musicians who consistently maintain a tight, clean sound, have come roaring back from their sparkling 2005 debut “Where Mockingbirds Roam” with “Coal Creek,” a blend of wisely arranged traditionals and moving originals.

Comprised of guitarist Stuart MacDonald, acoustic bassist Rod Pervier and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Trippe, the group is studied enough in its strings to confidently tackle some true bluegrass milestones. The album begins with “Little Maggie,” which has previously been covered by a bevy of heavyweights ranging from Ricky Skaggs to Bob Dylan. But the men more than hold their own during effortless runs and adept solos. Anchoring the group are MacDonald’s pristine vocals, which lift the listener to the é0s golden era of bluegrass, retaining sunny melody to spare. Furthermore, the song’s inventive arrangement allows for a well-paced instrumental outro which brings another level of understanding to the mechanics of the tune.

Although three other standards are well played, the real gems are originals, primarily penned by MacDonald. Lyrically, the material fits the bluegrass custom of gentle clichés and universal truths. But within the good-natured scheme of the music, even potentially hackneyed ideas sound genuine. In “Love Devine,” the understanding that “The hardships of life melt away / When her hand is wrapped up tight in mine,” is not revelatory. But thanks to the emotion with which MacDonald sings and a swelling fiddle line, courtesy of guest Hope Hoffman, the track remains one of the most nuanced and lovely moments on the disc.

Every song here shimmers with a unique vivacity. A take on “Diamond Joe” features a soulful acoustic guitar solo with just the right touches of harmonica interspersed. “Cuckoo,” a drastic rewrite of the classic “The Cuckoo,” is welcomingly menacing, adding some unexpected grit to the proceedings. The album’s title track is also among the strongest, offering a downtempo reflection which takes its time to burn through a tale of economic and spiritual woe.

Although an abundance of slow songs can often kill the pacing of an album, “Coal Creek” rewards listeners patient enough to enjoy it with true throwback magic. Credit taut musicianship, where every note matters and instruments are wrangled in ways that only true artists could conjure.

Maine native William Earl is a musician and music writer. He’s currently living in Boston but has his ears on Maine-made music.

Copyright © 2007, Maine Community Publications


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