Fusing shades of bluegrass, country, folk and just a taste of ragtime, The New Texas String Band dish out one heck of a swing tune in their new single “Sweet Molly,” which was released this December to a warm reception from scene followers and critics alike. As their moniker so plainly implies, The New Texas String Band are an instrumentally-driven unit with a strong kinship with traditional Americana, particularly of the Lone Star-flavored variety, and though “Sweet Molly” isn’t a direct adaptation of an old fashioned swing number, it certainly has the sound and feel of something taken directly from the classic American songbook. In a time when bluegrass has been struggling to retain its colorful identity, this track definitely plays true to its roots better than most any other I’ve heard in recent memory.
The strings are the first and foremost center of all attention in “Sweet Molly,” and to some extent, everything is crafted around their warm tonality. The tempo, the verse, even the arrangement of the instruments in general; all of it comes down to accentuating the harmonies that can be sparked up at any given moment (and I must say, there are plenty to be enjoyed in the two and a half minutes this single lasts). There’s a little bit of assistance provided from behind the soundboard in the form of a really well-adjusted EQ, but other than that, you can tell there isn’t anything inorganic being presented to us in this track – which is more than I can say for most any of the country singles I’ve reviewed lately.
I actually think that the verses emphasize the rhythm far more than they do any literal poetic narrative here, which isn’t to discount the lyricism as much as it is to point out how integral the cadence of the words is to establishing the beat in this song. To me, “Sweet Molly” is more about demonstrating a lot of feeling to us than it is exhibiting the sort of blunt poeticisms that any bluegrass group could put together if given the right time, inspiration and resources to do so. The New Texas String Band aren’t necessarily reshaping the identity of their genre in this release, but it would be silly – and downright inaccurate – to say that they’re following any sort of a popular trend in their output.
For the discriminating bluegrass fan in need of something a little more sophisticated on their stereo this winter, The New Texas String Band’s “Sweet Molly” is an excellent song to acquire, no matter how you break it down. If texture and tonality are to account for anything in the numerous country subgenres that go well beyond just bluegrass, it is perhaps the kind of emotion that we find mostly missing from the commercial radio format nowadays (as well as a sense of blue-collar melodicism largely tethered to American history as a collective), and that’s exactly what I hear whenever I put this track on. It’s a look into the past that’s firmly planted in the present, and that’s hard to come by no matter what style of music we’re talking about.