The Greencards May Be Largely Australian, But they've Got Americana Down Pat on 'Sweetheart Of The Sun'
"Yes, there is. That was intentional. I'm glad you picked up on it," said Kym Warner, mandolin player for progressive bluegrass band The Greencards, referring to an inquiry regarding the watery theme on his band's new album, "Sweetheart of The Sun."
Warner's praise is appreciated, but the aquatic concept barely hides behind the solar aspects of the album's title. Nearly half of the song names evoke water, whether it be via "Ocean" or "Ferry" or the accented "Torren." The cover art displays Warner, bassist Carol Young and guitarist Carl Miner standing knee-deep in a river. The music video for "Black, Black Water" plays like a National Geographic documentary, teeming with footage of the Australian coast (and none of the band). Catching the group's fascination with the blue on a map isn't difficult.
"Mainly being from Australia, you grow up being near the beach or a river and that's such a big part of our lives, and continues to be a big part of our lives," said Warner, who shares his nationality with Young. "It's a themed record, a concept record if you will, based around motion and travel."
The pair's fascination with bluegrass music may surprise American listeners unfamiliar with the music scene in Australia. Genres lumped into the "Americana" catch-all, such as country and bluegrass, have long maintained interest in Oz. Keith Urban gets the majority of attention in the States, but Young made a name for herself in Australian country, releasing two singles that peaked at no. 1 on the nation's country charts and winning the Australian Independent Country Artist of The Year Award during 2000. Bluegrass musicians fit into more of a niche, but Warner's father helped pioneer the form in Australia. Warner himself won four consecutive Australian National Bluegrass Mandolin Championships, although he admitted the competition was sparse. The pair travelled to the United States to seek a more lucrative market and met English fiddler Eamon McLaughlin in Austin, TX, and the rest is history.
Critics praised the original trio (McLaughlin left the band in 2009) for the international flair that The Greencards brought to the bluegrass genre, and not just from Australia. McLaughlin's fiddling and Warner's mandolin brought out the Celtic influence hiding in the genre's roots, and the group's proximity to the Mexican border brought them Latin American inspirations. The worldly approach remains the same with "Sweetheart of The Sun," despite the band letting a few Americans into its fold. "Boxcar Boys" gives special credence to Mexico, featuring classical "Spanish" guitar with accordion accompaniment, a move Warner said was inspired by "Which Way Home," a documentary tracking migration to the United States. He hesitates to describe such strategies as overly "progressive" however, preferring to dwell under the wider reach of the "Americana" label. Warner's music may be "newgrass" in the sense that he writes original bluegrass songs, but he doesn't see playing songs apart from Stanley Brothers standards as being groundbreaking.
"I don't want to seem like I'm putting anybody down but..." Warner said as he considered his words. "The music's got to be kept alive, like jazz or blues, traditional songs have to be kept alive. But there's a part of me that keeps saying 'how many times do we need to record these songs?'"
The members, although inspired by American bluegrass records during their youth, draw from a wider listening experience. Young has her country roots of course, and Warner admitted to being a "metalhead" during the interview with Music Times. The Greencards' Facebook page denoted "Sweetheart's" release on August 20 with a caption marking the album's debut at no. 11 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart, no. 29 on the Americana Radio Chart, and Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant's birthday. The photo to go with the caption? A shirtless Plant from his band's '70s heyday. Warner manages to defy the obvious and incorporate metal into The Greencards as well.
"I always that element in writing instrumentals, that riffy-type thing," he said. "I'm not sure we're going to cover [Metallica's] 'Seek and Destroy' or something, but it's always in the back of my mind. Especially during live performances."
The Greencards have already caught the eye of other American music legends, touring with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson during the pair's 2005 tour. Is it so far fetched to think that Metallica may catch wind and give The Greencards a call?