Mighty Poplar, Mighty Poplar Review


Mighty Poplar, Mighty Poplar Review

by Griff Stevens

Mighty-Poplar-5-Finger-Review-cdIn the sprawling sonic garden of bluegrass music, the appearance of Mighty Poplar is akin to the blooming of a rare and beautiful flower. This supergroup, comprising members with lineage traced to pivotal acts like Punch Brothers, Leftover Salmon, and Watchhouse, represents a confluence of mastery and passion that stands out even in a genre known for its tight-knit community and high-caliber musicianship. Their self-titled debut album, Mighty Poplar, released on Free Dirt Records, is a collection of songs sprouted in the fertile soil formed through years of shared stages and spontaneous jam sessions.

Central to Mighty Poplar’s genesis is the trio of Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris “Critter” Eldridge (guitar), and Greg Garrison (bass)—each bringing a wealth of experience from their time with Punch Brothers and beyond. With mandolist Andrew Marlin of Watchhouse at the vocal helm and Alex Hargreaves’ fiddle weaving through the mix, the album delivers on the promise of its members’ pedigrees, offering a blend of technical prowess and deep emotional resonance that captivates from the first note.

The band’s choice of material, featuring covers of classics by Bob Dylan, John Hartford, A.P. Carter, and LeonardMighty-Poplar-1 Cohen, speaks to their reverence for the bluegrass tradition while showcasing their unique ability to infuse these well-trodden paths with new vitality. Their rendition of Carter’s “A Distant Land to Roam” sets the stage with Marlin’s evocative vocals and a precise and exuberant synergy among the instruments. The instrumental “Grey Eagle” exemplifies the group’s virtuosic interplay, with each member’s contributions shining brightly yet seamlessly integrated into the whole.

Beyond the sheer musicianship, what sets Mighty Poplar apart is their collective approach to music-making. As the band recounts, the project was born from a shared love for bluegrass and the joy of collaboration, a spirit palpably felt throughout the album. The laid-back yet masterful execution of tracks like Hartford’s “Let Him Go on Mama” and Dylan’s “North Country Blues” highlights the group’s ability to balance technical skill with soul-stirring interpretation.

Interestingly, despite their individual accolades and achievements, Mighty Poplar feels less like a showcase of virtuosity and more like a heartfelt gathering of friends. Marlin’s role as the primary vocalist and his admission of feeling “out of place” among such esteemed instrumentalists adds a refreshing layer of humility and authenticity. The band’s decision to lean into covers rather than original compositions for their debut further underscores their intention to pay homage to the roots of bluegrass while contributing their distinct voice to its ongoing narrative.

The album is a beautiful debut for the band, but also hints at the future potential of this ensemble. The anticipation of their first touring engagement and the possibility of subsequent projects suggest that Mighty Poplar is not just a fleeting convergence of talents but a burgeoning entity with much more to offer.

Mighty-Poplar-2Mighty Poplar is a celebration of bluegrass music’s enduring allure, performed by musicians who are custodians of its heritage and pioneers of its evolution. The album shows what is possible when artists come together for the sheer love of music.


Mighty Poplar

Release Date: March 31, 2024

Label: Free Dirt Records

About the author

Griff Stevens
Griff Stevens

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