Alaskan newgrass: Bearfoot album review

BearfootAlaskan summer camp counselors getting together for mellow hoe-downs tickle your fancy? If so, check out this fourth album from dewy-skinned newgrass combo Bearfoot who formed in 1999 to represent the Cordova, Alaska, Music Camp at festivals across the Northwest. The six eager counselors honed their skills for two years, then scored big at the Telluride Band Contest in 2001—putting them in a category with Dixie Chicks and Nickel Creek. On their fourth CD, Doors and Windows (released last week), they bring out the pop influences in their work (including a take on the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down"), while showcasing bluegrass licks that appeal to traditionalists. Lead singer Odessa Jorgensen's subtle inflections sound like a cross between Norah Jones and Suzanne Vega—a style that brings out the flavor of the strong, old-timey instrumentation.Is it the future of bluegrass?

The new lineup includes four of the original campers, with Kate Hamre (acoustic bass), Mike Mickelson (guitar), Jason Norris (mandolin) and Angela Oudean (fiddle), and adds Californian Jorgensen (vocals and fiddle). The new CD features guest musicians for the first time, including banjo virtuoso Alison Brown.

The album's cover of "Don't Let Me Down" brings out the song's mellow prettiness. The unsettling, angry title track, written by Jorgensen, describes a monster no longer sleeping—love, anger? Its dark swing sucks you in. The country-flavored ballad "Heaven," by Jorgensen, with its happy chorus, "Love is the space between time," has gorgeous harmonies, and they do a buoyant cover of John Hiatt's "Before I Go." They perform the traditional "Single Girl," a comic song about former freedom, exhilaratingly fast. And the fun, collectively written "Good in the Kitchen," includes Andrews Sisters--style harmonies and a "doobie doobie doo" refrain.—Gwen Orel

Bearfoot plays the Studio at Webster Hall Thu 30.