Cutting your teeth as a young band in New York City can be a daunting task for any group of musicians, let alone a bluegrass band that New Jersey home. The fact is that most up and coming groups often get lumped onto a show bill with several other acts, usually opening the night to a “ghost venue” as the headlining act is still hours away. For the Brummy Brothers opening set, the Studio at Webster Hall was basically empty. The international touring act The Young Dubliners and their fans were no where to be found and as a result the dance floor was made up of a few fans of the bluegrass brothers and a couple curious members of the second act Streams of Whiskey.
As the picks began to hit the strings it was clear that on this occasion the early birds definitely got the worms. The band of brothers, though not all blood related, formed just as 2012 got under way when brothers Dave (upright bass) and Eric Brumberg (mandolin) linked up with Russell Gottlieb (banjo) and Andrew Morris (guitar) to have some fun playing good old bum shaking bluegrass tunes… and jam the hell out of them. Their recently recorded first EP, Down To Pluck, provided the majority of the short but sweet set list aside from one song, “Weed, Whiskey and Women”, which will undoubtedly find its way onto a future album. Following the track listing of Down To Pluck, they jumped into the steadily paced “Manuscript Massacre” and delivered it as if it was an old tune they’d been picking on for ages. These guys have a knack for songwriting which was clearly on display all throughout their set. In addition to the songwriting, the musicianship conveyed an essence of class amongst the band as they steer clear of the temptation to self indulge and play in excess. Aside from all around solid vocals, with each member contributing a bit of their vocal cords, “Manuscript Massacre” contains a few measures of really creative and enjoyable vocal layering, possibly influenced by a few Phish or Yonder tunes who the band acknowledges as influences.
After working out some sound issues the guys kept the vibe moving along with “Cruisin’”. Perhaps foreshadowing some things to come in the future the chorus finds the band “grooving across the sea,” and at this point the few sets of feet in the crowd surely were groovin’. A flowing mandolin courtesy of Eric and Andrew’s comping guitar propels the tune along and provides just the right texture for the lead vocals handled by Dave. The melodies and vocal harmonies these guys concoct are what will most definitely come to define this band as they gain steam and move well beyond the tri-state area. However, for fans that go see bluegrass there’s no denying that they come to also bear witness to fiery solos that traditionally get passed along like a hot potato. Like a quarterback running the game, Dave steadily held down his bass lines while calling to his fellow band mates to take their turn ripping up their strings. Being called to action first was Brother Eric who immediately unleashed a flurry of mandolin notes that completely took over the sonic space of Webster Hall’s studio. Taking the back seat on the cruise up to this point was Andrew, but in no time he went from back seat to shotgun and took off on a run showcasing his ability to shred…bluegrass style that is. As Dave stood next to his bass with bow in hand, Russell, Andrew and Eric open up “No Good” with a gently flowing melody that gains some darkness with long drawn out notes by Dave. Handling lead vocals was Andrew and the deep resonating tone of his voice complimented the dreary feel to the start of the song perfectly. Toward the end of the first verse the energy picks up briefly before quickly settling down to the main theme of the tune and into the second verse. The songs lyrics reflect a common theme often found in bluegrass of being an outlaw or outcast of sorts making his way across the safety of night skies, hiding from the eyes of the sunlight. The end of the second verse finds the tempo picking up steam again and a four part harmonic exclamation “because it’s no good, you can’t travel in the day” leads right into a nicely defined jam. At this point Dave abandons his bow to work his fingers up the neck of his bass, while the rest of the band is tightly locked in as one. Ultimately the tune winds back down to the main theme, Dave with bow in hand to draw things to a close.
Perhaps an adaptation of several classic songs about good ol’ fun like The Sons of the Pioneers 1947 hit, “Cigarettes, Whusky, and Wild, Wild Women” and the Hank Williams III 2002 song, “whiskey, Weed & Women” the boys broke into the one song not on the new EP “Weed, Whiskey and Women”. The song has all the characteristics to be a late set fan favorite sing along, perhaps even the perfect set closer. Rather steady tempoed and straight forward the song lends itself to a gentle sway or stomping of the feet. It flows along like the smoke and drinks they encourage in the first verse line “well roll it up, drink up” which not surprisingly evoked several hoots from the now filled in venue. As the guys all declare in harmony, “There’s nothing like being horny, drunk stoned and laughing” they venture into one of the more ambitious jams of the evening which proves that yes these guys have the right stuff but also showed that there will always be room to grow for a young motivated band. With that being said, the jam showcased each band member’s abilities to be creative in their leads, play the support role and also keep up the fast tempos. With some new equipment, such as volume pedals, the band won’t have to stress their bodies so much trying to project their instruments across the venue or prepare to dig in so deep when it came time to solo. With time and the previously mentioned new gear they need to obtain, there will undeniably be less shaking loose of the hands after such serious jamming.
Before breaking into the next tune Dave set the stage by explaining that the song is for all those guys out there with girls that they love, yet love to hate. “Bat Shit Crazy” is a tune that touches home on several levels as we have all had that “one” partner that for better or worse, changes us. On a musical level, the song is quintessentially bluegrass from the down to earth lyrics about a tough relationship, the rhythmic time keeping of the comping mandolin and guitar and the tasty solos. However, it’s the catchy chorus, “She’s bat shit crazy- certifiably insane, yeah she’s bat shit crazy- loving you is such a pain, because your bat shit crazy- any man with half a brain can see your bat shit crazy, but I love ya- just the same”, that you will find popping up in your head for days after. The song is just plain old fun and given the high tempo of the tune the consistency on vocals was impressive. Though marred by some limitations effecting the projection of his guitar, Andrew confidently tore it up as if he was letting out some pent up energy – perhaps due to a crazy significant other? The tune came to an end with a quick game of copycat as Dave and Russell traded a song closing riff before taking advantage of the little time left for one last number. Appropriately enough they closed the night with “Comin’ Home”, the closing track off their new EP Down To Pluck. The energy they were able to harness throughout their set carried over to the closing song and if these four guys can keep playing with such precision, creativity and inspiration, chances are they won’t be home for long.