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Full Cord

Something for everyone here, from slow country ballads to instrumentals ranging from fiddle tunes to klezmerish, Western Swing, great songwriting, and a couple of real surprises.

Full Cord

CD: Cambium
Artist: Full Cord
Artist Website:
CD Label: Dark Shadow Recording
Label Website:

Full Cord: A volume measurement of wood, typically firewood, measured at 4' X 4' X 8'. A Face Cord is a stack of wood 4' X the cut length of the wood (typically 2') X 8' (or about half the volume of a Full Cord). Fist fights often occur when someone is sold a Cord of wood, and a Face Cord is delivered. A Full Cord is by far the best value, giving one more for the money. Also, an award-winning Bluegrass band from Michigan.

Cambium: The soft growth layer in woody plants between the bark and woody center. The life essence of a tree is in the cambium. Also, a CD by the Michigan Bluegrass band Full Cord.

Now that I've furnished a partial lesson on some of the commercial and botanical aspects of woody plants, we can get on to the oak, hickory, ash, and maple nature of the music by the band Full Cord on their CD Cambium.

I've heard a lot about Full Cord, snippets here and there about Full Cord this and Full Cord that, Full Cord as IBMA's Momentum Band of the Year, Full Cord wowing the crowd at Telluride, and Full Cord other. Yet, I'd heard no Full Cord music. I'd heard none of their music, that is, until a copy of their CD Cambium found its way into my mailbox, courtesy of Dark Shadow Recording. Cambium is solid, like hickory. Cambium has strong tones, like Maple. Cambium burns hot, like oak and ash.

I'm not going to furnish a history of the band and its members. Their website is available at the link above for that. I'm going to spend my time writing about the music, which is top-shelf stuff. Something for everyone here, from slow country ballads to instrumentals ranging from fiddle tunes to klezmerish, Western Swing, great songwriting, and a couple of real surprises. When this band falls (easily, it seems) into the pocket, they stay there.

The songs are:
1. Ghost of Good Times
2. Maces Spring
3. Blue Trail
4. Logan's Farewell
5. I Laugh When I think How I Cried Over You
6. Wild Mountain Rose
7. Yellow Leaves of Autumn
8. Train Train (Carry Me Away)
9. Sallie's Dancing
10. Reelin' In The Years
11. Dixie Darling
12. Blue Eyes Look My Way
Mandolinist and Lead Vocalist Brian Oberlin composed four of the twelve songs on Cambium, and banjoist Rick Meir gave us one of his original tunes. We get a taste of Bob Wills and The Carter Family. The instrumental "Logan's Farewell," composed by Meir, falls somewhere between Klezmer and Dawg Music but sure caught my ear. "Wild Mountain Rose," one of Oberlin's originals, is an upbeat, straight-ahead Bluegrass song that has me thinking of my own wild mountain rose.

It's hard to list all my favorites on this CD; there are too many. But I can sure name my favorite: "Sallie's Dancing." This medium-tempo Oberlin instrumental is one of those tunes that youngsters who learn it and incorporate it into their own repertoire will play too fast because, lacking speed, it nevertheless has drive, which is all too often mistaken for the former. As far as tempo goes, "Sallie's Dancing" is perfect. Every note played by every instrument added to the melody of this song. I cannot decide which part I like the best: the mandolin, the excellent fiddle, the perfect banjo, the guitar that nails the melody, or the bass that is just right where you want it to be. Salute boys. This tune got in my blood.

Then, right after "Sallie's Dancing" is an excellent rendition of Steely Dan's "Are You Reelin' In The Years." Well...WOW. So many times, Bluegrassified versions of our favorite classic rock songs are somewhat hokie, trying to force a song into 2/4 time in the most awkward cheerleader-esque/marching band way. Full Cord's "Are You Reelin' In The Years" has no hint of that; they absolutely capture the essence of Steely Dan, which I suggest is not easily done.

Then, one of my favorite Carter Family tunes, "My Dixie Darling," is rendered in a relevant way, melodically flowing as free as a lazy mountain brook winds down the hillside.

“Maces Spring” really caught my ear, too. I can think of no greater compliment than it put me in mind of the marvelous duets of The Nashville Bluegrass Band's Pat Enright and Alan O'Bryant.

Cambium starts out strong and builds momentum as it goes. Lots of CDs lose momentum as they approach the end, as if the boiler pressure bleeds off as steam is used, but not this one. The longer you listen, the better it gets.

It's like they threw in a full cord of firewood after every song, its cambium layer exploding in a burst of steam.

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