"Weather and Water"
Mandolinist Kym Warner, fiddler Eamon McLoughlin and bassist Carol Young call themselves the Greencards because they hail from Australia, England and Australia, respectively. They were drawn to the United States by their love of traditional American music, and they have mastered the string-band format so well that they were named Best New Band at the 2004 Austin Music Awards. They have since moved to Nashville, where they recorded their impressive second album, "Weather and Water," with help from New Grass Revival's Pat Flynn and Kentucky Thunder's Bryan Sutton.
Warner and McLoughlin are accomplished pickers, but the emphasis here is not on bluegrass virtuosity but on new songs in which the acoustic instruments support the mood and clarity of the lyrics. Young, who takes most of the lead vocals, has a bell-like soprano with a reluctant catch in her delivery that gives it an emotional punch. Warner and McLoughlin frame her voice with crisp, lean arrangements, and when they do step forward for a solo, it's to extend the implications of the vocal.
The seven original songs and three original instrumentals are joined by an unreleased Patty Griffin song ("What You Are") and an unreleased Jedd Hughes song (the title track). Young's wistful vocal on Griffin's ballad is given a melancholy undercurrent by McLoughlin's cello but also a touch of resilience by Sutton's sparkling guitar. Just as effective is "The Ghost of Who We Were," an uncertain stab at romantic reconciliation where the yearning, three-part harmony vocals are expanded even further by the viola and mandolin. By contrast, the string band chases Young through "Don't Want Forever," an up-tempo, joyful promise to live for the moment.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Monday at the Birchmere. Also opening Tuesday with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson at Prince George's Stadium.