CRESCENT AND FROST at C'est What, August 1. Tickets: $6. Attendance: 38. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Coming of age in a climate of angst-ridden alt-rock, my friends were more than a little disturbed by my love of country music. For me, no other sound in music is as affecting as pedal steel. I obsessively tried to attract converts by sneaking Ernest Tubb or Buck Owens in between Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey albums, with little success.
The guy who hooked me on country was Gram Parsons, and while nowadays he's incorrectly seen as some mythic hero who single-handedly invented country rock, even he was a hard sell at the time. Combining contemporary lyrics with traditional country structures, his take on rootsy music eschewed the redneck clichés. Parsons sought acceptance within both the traditional country and the then peace-and-love-fixated rock establishments.
Crescent and Frost sound nothing like Gram Parsons, but 30-odd years later, their story is similar. Though they play traditional bluegrass, they don't hail from Kentucky or Virginia, but reside in New York City.
As the C'est What crowd looked on, lead singer Maryann Fennimore introduced the band as "just another bluegrass band from Brooklyn," with obvious sarcasm. Bluegrass may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of hipster-friendly Brooklyn, but the five-piece are doing well in their hometown acoustic music scene, with good reason.
Their lyrics and the strength of their delivery set them apart from staunch traditionalists. Forget the typical "cheating heart/I'm drinking again" sentiments of old-schoolers like Bill Monroe or Lester Flatt. Fennimore's a modern girl, more concerned with tales of life in the big city than with dry, dusty crops.
Her voice is a powerful instrument, not unlike Joni Mitchell's, supported by upright bass and muted electric and acoustic guitars. Who needs drums anyway? Daniel Marcus , the other half of the creative team, picked away at his guitar with shy determination. The combination was at times breathtaking, especially on the cover of Stop! In The Name Of Love.
Sadly, C'est What will be gone by month's end, due to a greedy landlord who thinks tripling the rent is good business. Nevertheless, the mood was more celebratory than funereal. Parsons's vision of "cosmic American music" may never really have reached the masses, but his spirit is alive in a new generation of musicians who see bluegrass as cutting-edge, and who play it with more energy than most punk bands can muster.