Mipso – Old Time Reverie

Mipso describes themselves as “renegade traditionalists,” a
contradiction in terms that is understandably confusing for those who
are unacquainted with the band. But for the initiated, there’s no better
description—what else do you say about a group that refashions Drake in
the style of classical bluegrass? 
The
band’s new album, “Old Time Reverie,” picks up where this renegade
tradition left off in their 2013 full-length debut. A little sharper, a
little more grown-up, the band kept the same concept: playing with the
conventions of old-school bluegrass to end up with something that’s not
at all old-fashioned.
The most obvious change Mipso has made since their last album is
the addition of Libby Rodenbough on the fiddle. Although Rodenbough has
been involved with the band since its early days—she met the group’s
three founding members when they were students at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill and recorded the violin part for their
first EP—”Old Time Reverie” marks her introduction as a full-fledged
member, and her addition is a most welcomed one. As the only woman in
the band, Rodenbough takes a turn in the spotlight as the lead singer on
two tracks—“Down in the Water” and “Everyone Knows”—and her gentle
voice makes for a refreshing change of pace. She particularly shines on
the latter track, a lush and haunting reflection on a “cold and dark”
world.
Among
Mipso’s greatest strengths are their thoughtful lyrics. “Experimental
laparoscopic cardiology” as a solution to a broken heart from “Dark
Holler Pop”’s “Red Eye to Raleigh” is one of my all-time favorite
lines—and “Old Time Reverie” certainly delivers on this count. More so
than “Dark Holler Pop” did, “Old Time Reverie” experiments with
storytelling. “Bad Penny” takes the cake for uniqueness, with a jaded
Abraham Lincoln come to life from the surface of a coin chasing the
singer through New York, offering life advice as he goes. The opening
track “Marianne” is also daring, but in a different way—told from the
perspective of an interracial couple deciding to leave the bigotry of
their hometown. But the band isn’t always trying on other personas for
size. The album’s most emotional song is one of the most personal. In
“Momma,” mandolin player Jacob Sharp describes his mother’s death from
ovarian cancer four years ago, naked grief apparent as his voice climbs
into its upper register to ask “Am I still so lost?”. The
record is just as earnest as “Dark Holler Pop,” but it’s more
polished—a slight upgrade across the board. As Sharp told Recess this
summer: “I don’t really think it’s a departure, but we are just
naturally becoming more of our own with what we are involved with.”

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