Trouble with the Grey is the second CD put out by the band Too Blue. The band is composed of Betsy Rome on guitar and vocals, Joan Harrison on banjo and vocals, Mike Sassano on mandolin and vocals, and Jamie Doris bass. Nine out of the twelve tunes are original, the singing/harmonies are from heaven, the instrumental work is inventive, flawless, and powerful, and the arrangements are entertaining and tight. I’ll give a sense of what I hear reviewing the first several songs.
The first cut, “Face the Music,” gets right down to business with an entertaining confident mandolin kick-off which tells you to sit up and listen. The clear strong vocal follows, joined by the interplay of guitar, bass, banjo, and mandolin, trading of licks, and keeping the listeners’ interest piqued. The message in the song “Face the Music” is true to life’s experience, reminding us to look at life and love for what it is instead of running away from it.
The second cut “Yesterday’s Eyes” opens with a toss back and forth between mandolin and guitar with clear, clean picking all the way. Once the singing starts we are served up the finest two voices I know for harmony anywhere. The harmonies are perfect, close, and feel so comfortable. Again in this track a true to life story line, about waking up and realizing things have changed in a relationship but for too long the singer has looked at life through the feelings of the past.
“Twister,” the third cut, is an instrumental written by mandolin player Michael Sassano. Mike takes you on a twister ride that leaves you breathless, and calling for more, and more. Excuse my French, but this dude can play the p*** out of a mandolin. Everyone seems to be having just as much fun, joining in the cascade of notes as they twist around and around.
“Home,” the fourth tune, though not an original, is a perfect song for showcasing the sweet harmonies of this group. The female voices are joined by Mike’s voice in three part harmony. Here I stop dead in my tracks as this blend of voices stirs something inside that transcends. These harmonies are the essence of why music moves people. The fiddle follows the voices and puts the final mark that says this is a complete song in every way.
Fun starts again in the fifth track “Trouble with the Grey,” with a peppy banjo intro. One Too Blue trademark that is abundantly apparent in this track is their infectious rhythm. No band could accomplish the rhythm changes this band is capable of without a solid bass player, and Jamie Doris excels in this role. The story line resonates with most peoples life experience…”The high’s and lows don’t get you down it’s what happens in-between”…yup, true to life. This topic is treated with an upbeat, snappy rhythm, which sends a message that under it all, music is a salvation to having “Trouble with the Grey.“
This review would not be complete without special mention of the fiddle player Rob Hecht. Too Blue asked Rob to join them for this recording and, wow, did they make a good choice. Wherever he adds a fiddle track it’s tasteful and exciting, but listen to track 11, “How Long Must I Wait for You,” and you will hear some mighty fine swing fiddle.
The rest of the songs are fresh, swinging, sometimes sentimental, and always satisfying. I play the CD in the car, at home, for family and friends, and hope you will get a copy so you can enjoy it too. The review would not be complete without words of praise for the mixing and mastering. This is a very high quality recording. Too Blue chose wisely to employ Bob Harris of Ampersand Records to do the work. The “jewel case” contains a good number of pictures and noteworthy liner information that all ads up to a real professional piece of work.
Too Blue is a local treasure and I have for years thought of them as good a band as many of the national touring bands. I expect this CD will help them become more widely known. It’s an excellent summary of their work and I give it my highest recommendation.