On Greensky Blue-grass' two-disc live album, the lulls between songs sound like an orchestral warm-up. You can hear the instruments separately like pieces of a puzzle not quite solved yet: guitar scales, intermittent banjo pluckings, warm mandolin flutterings, rich upright bass thumps and the rumble of the dobro. The intermezzos and the whooping of the crowd illuminate exactly what makes a live album worth doing. I don't always think much of a live recording if the sound quality is lacking because of it, but the recording of this Kalamazoo, Mich., bluegrass band is crystal clear: You can hear every tap and twang, the way in which a chord comes out rich or raw, bright or heavy.
Despite smart covers of Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and the Beatles, it's the songs by mandolin player Paul Hoffman that are the most stunning. He weaves dark, haunting laments into bright instrumentation. In "Reverend" he sings, "There are reasons I worry, there are answers I fear. Is there love enough to save us, will it find us out here," before launching into the chorus, "Can you carry more if you leave me back?" His sober sincerity and ironclad songwriting won't go unnoticed for long.
Greensky Bluegrass plays the Top Hat Thursday, March 18, at 10 PM with Lil Smokies. Cover TBA.