An unspoken tradition is not a written law. It’s a deep understanding shared between people, rooted in the past, and grown by human connection and emotion. One forms through experience and creates a way to pay homage to what’s come before, while allowing for forward motion. In a nod to this unwritten pact, Western North Carolina Bluegrass artist Unspoken Tradition brings their third album, Myths We Tell Our Young, available April 19 from Mountain Home Music Company.
Steeped in tradition, yet strikingly modern, Myths We Tell Our Young shows a band full of urgency. With original songwriting and a fresh sound, Unspoken Tradition offers a reinterpretation of storied themes, stressing human connection to the natural world and what we take from the environments that surround us.
“Although they come from a personal place, the themes in Myths lean toward a larger message about our changing communities in the southern mountains. Music that is based in heritage will always be a reflection of where you’ve been, but we also wanted to muse on where we are going, both as a band and as a culture.” says Audie McGinnis, Unspoken Tradition's guitarist and vocalist.
The album springs from the gate with “Nothing But Sky,” a song that starts with a bright fiddle driven riff and a modern feel. It sets a positive tone for a band that is consciously pursuing an evolving style that seeks to bring their traditional roots into new territory.
“Land,” the band’s debut single from this album, follows with sentiments found in Bluegrass standards like “Little Cabin Home On The Hill” and “Blue Ridge Mountain Home.”
“I wrote ‘Land’ after spending a weekend in the mountains of North Carolina. I was shocked at how much concrete had invaded the area. The town we were in had certainly grown, but in the process its charm had faded,” says McGinnis. “Sometimes, I think we honestly believe we are improving things with renovation, construction, and demolition. That may be true, but we’re also erasing the simplicity and beauty of what came before, as well as doing irreversible things to our natural, elemental world. ‘Land’ is not only about a man who appreciates what he has, but a man who understands the risk of giving it away for the sake of improvement. Gentrification is an irreversible process; once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
The album continues exploring elemental connections with “Force Of Nature,” a hard driving, banjo-led tune with an unexpected instrumental breakdown in the middle of the song. It’s a poetic love song played and sung with aggression and serves as the inspiration for the album’s title.
“Is there anything that can truly withstand time? ‘Force of Nature’ is about what is left when everything else we know is gone,” says McGinnis. “The hopeful folks like me might say the answer is love.”
Myths We Tell Our Young gives a nod to traditional bluegrass themes with songs like murder ballad “Dark Side Of The Mountain” sung by bassist and vocalist Lee Shuford which climbed to the #1 spot on the National Bluegrass Radio charts; “Light Just One Candle,” a ballad with a twist on a cheating song with waltz-timing also sung by Shuford; and “Lonesome’s Gonna Be Here,” another original song about a love lost but not forgotten written by McGinnis in a classic style and sung with his signature growl.
Shuford contributes “I Say Let’s Go (Colorado)” an upbeat, pop-tinged tune, providing notes of optimism. He says, “For me, and hopefully others that listen to it, the song is really about self-motivation. People work really hard to provide stability for themselves and their families and sometimes forget to take the shot when they have the chance and do the things they've always wanted to do. I think my favorite sentiment from the song is that life can pass you by if you don't sometimes just say ‘Let's go.’”
“Uncharted Territory” marks the biggest jump in the band’s evolvement into embracing progressive Bluegrass. Written by Paula Breedlove and Brad Davis, it has an unexpected tempo switch, a signature guitar lick throughout and a contemporary approach that is all made cohesive by McGinnis’ lead vocal.
Written and sung by mandolin player Ty Gilpin, “Cold Mountain Town” is a dedication to Asheville, North Carolina and its music scene and speaks to the city’s recent growing pains from a new era of development and gentrification. Although it has a more poetic style, the references to evolving culture are not too veiled.
“I’ve lived and played music in Asheville most of my life. This one's for her,” says Gilpin. “The title has a double meaning. Sometimes the mountain city can be cold-hearted to artists. It also is a nod to Cold Mountain beer, a season brew from Highland Brewing Company. When it goes on sale in the winter it costs twice as much as any other beer in town but it sure is good! There are references to how Asheville has become overrun with beer and music tourism. Not always for the better.”
Unspoken Tradition closes the album with “The Mountains Win Again,” a cover of a the 90’s Blues/Jam band kings, Blues Traveler. Arranged much like the original, it fits the band’s style with a smooth translation to acoustic instruments. Here, McGinnis spreads his vocal range more than ever, with the same heartfelt modulation found in the original.
With this collection of songs, Unspoken Tradition recognizes the natural world can’t be tamed, while simultaneously recognizing some boundaries need to be tested. Myths cannot be created without tradition or change. Through the stories told on this album, Unspoken Tradition respects what’s come before them yet breaks through understood norms.