THOSE SHIRTS! And their Tricky Britches.
Look, just because they’re a stringband doesn’t mean they sound like Mumford and Sons. Or the Lumineers. And certainly not Of Monsters and Men. Now that everyone is getting a stringband swerve on, you might as well pay attention to the subtleties of the genre.
Tricky Britches? They lean pretty heavily toward the old-timey end of the spectrum, with a deep and abiding respect for the body of American stringband work, manifesting itself in original songs that are instantly familiar. On their third album, Good Company, they mostly move forward by virtue of simply being better players. This is a band still on the rise. As they write more songs, play more gigs, build more rapport, they establish just where their material uniquely sits on the spectrum.
It’s hard not to hear Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Hard to Love” in the album’s opening “Leave My Troubles Behind,” fronted by often-bassist Jed Bresette. It has a drive to it, melodies that jump into the chorus, and a wishcasting bent: “Put a bullet in my chest.” But that’s backed by Ryan “Bear” Wilkinson’s “Long Day,” which is as much Dick Curless as anything else, with shades of a young Elvis. A classic trucking song, it’s probably the closest thing we’ve had to Diesel Doug and the Long Haul Truckers since they called it a day.
Wilkinson isn’t Curless, of course. That guy’s voice was made of velvet.
Really, Tricky Britches don’t have a transcendent lead vocalist. They make up for it, though, with bench depth. Each of the four band members takes at least one lead turn; the variety and album organization are particular strengths here.
Fiddler Tyler Lienhardt’s best effort is “Creepin’ Up on Me,” where he really finds his wheelhouse. It’s a Django-style piece, at times like you’d hear behind a Scooby Doo bit at a haunted house in the Bayou, with shades of the Hackensaw Boys’ “Oh, Girl.” The bass is percussive, with Besette taking a page out of Kris Day’s book, and Lienhardt delivers the perfect amount of mania: “Yes, I was on the right track/Oh, but now I derailed/There’s no going back.”
Mandolinist Seth Doyle adopts a twang for the Dixified “Brackett St.,” and there’s more Django yet, this time in the style of the Hot Club of Cowtown, especially when Lienhardt gets ripping, and Hot Club’s Elana James can really rip. The New Orleans feel they pull off is testament to Lienhardt’s increasingly adept feel with his bowing. His “Finest Kind” is a playful waltz, too, like the backing to a Lawrence of Arabia on Broadway. It’s also sort of barbershop, though.
Like “Black & White,” not all the songs are predictable. The minor backstep they pull off in the chorus here gives a sour undertone to a devotional that might raise your eyebrows anyway. Sure, the “what I wouldn’t give to be that dress” part seems like high praise, but aren’t those black-and-white stripes the sort of thing a skunk would appreciate? “Monadnock” is an ultra-traditional instrumental in the A part, but then opens up into something far more pop in the B.