From the WV program, September, 2000
Pastures of Plenty
Once upon a time, Robin Macy played the Walnut Valley Festival with a particularly well-known chick group. Last year, she performed with Blue Plate Special. In 2000, Macy and Blue Plate Special bandmate Ken White are on the bill with Big Twang, a Kansas roots music supergroup of sorts. White and Macy are joined by Darren Wilcox, Troy Gilchrist and Jeff Scroggins. Among the band members' extensive past credits are stints with New Tradition, Special Consensus and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Big Twang's first recording is "Pastures of Plenty." Its 11 songs are rootsy and acoustic, bursting with the freedom of rock and the bite of bluegrass.
The band's rebellious approach to playing heartfelt music in a slickly commercial music world may best be summarized by its recording of Nanci Griffith's "Time of Inconvenience": "The only voices heard have money in their pants / Greed is the common sophistication."
The members of Big Twang are multi-instrumentalists with a number of contest victories to their credit. Their skills are apparent all over the CD, from the faster-than-you-can-say-Uncle-Pen "Blue Letter," featuring guest fiddler Byron Berline, to Gilchrist's original instrumental "High Noon," with breathless banjo and mandolin leads and a guitar part that finds a few aching blue notes in the midst of the fury. "Missin' the Mrs." Adds an unexpectedly jazzy piano part by co-producer Mark Mazur to the mix.
Big Twang's vocal excellence is what makes the album. Macy is as fine as ever, and her reading of the melancholy title ballad is respectful but not reserved. The group's approach to harmony owes something to the poppier side of bluegrass, staggering lines, and playing with rhythms instead of crunching parts into stacks.
A mild surprise is the inclusion of a Police song, "Secret Journey," originally from "Ghost in the Machine." (It must be the year for acoustic Sting, as Karen Mueller just recorded "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic!") Leaning heavily on White's mysterious guitar part, the song is a great example of what barnburning musicians can do with slower, sophisticated material.