Back in the mid-'80s I saw the Swedish hair metal band Europe (of "The Final Countdown" fame) play a show in Seattle. They did a rock version of the classical piece "Flight of the Bumblebee" that allowed guitarist John Norum to flash his chops. It was cool enough live, but in retrospect it felt like just an exercise in wankery. That's basically how I feel about a lot of bluegrass, too, particularly when it comes to the new wave of tattooed musicians playing punkgrass, like Jayke Orvis and The Broken Band.
The opening song on Orvis' Bless This Mess, "Murder of Crows," seems like it should be dark and brooding. Instead, it's an instrumental chock-full of that kind of high speed, self-serving solo trading that I hate in bluegrass. It put me off right out of the gate, but I stayed with it—and I came around. Why should I have an attitude about musicians who actually showcase the mastery of their instruments?
On Bless This Mess, The Broken Band members solidify themselves as top-shelf players. And because Orvis is no crooner, he provides a nice, rougher offset to the technical prowess of the musicians. The cleverly written songs have a brash edge to them. Ultimately, what this band and its music is about is a good time, and at rock volume I found myself smiling and bobbing my head. I'm pretty sure that's the point.
Jayke Orvis and The Broken Band play the VFW Fri., Jan. 17, with James Hunnicutt and The Whiskey Hooves. 10 PM. $8.