"Bringing it Back" CD Review         5/14/03

 by

Shawn Craver 

    The debut recording of the Frederick, Maryland based bluegrass band the "Orchard Boys" was a pleasure to listen to and review. While many regional bands have struggled to develop three part harmonies and tri-instrumental lead playing, the Orchard Boys took the bull by the horns and picked a basket full of ripe red apples.

At the core of the band, three brothers hailing from the apple country of central Maryland, John, Jeff, and Jim Rosenwald make nary a mistake in their polished vocal trios. With Jim on guitar and baritone vocals, Jeff on doghouse bass and tenor vocals, and John taking the lead, the Orchard Boy's create a sound that most folks would love to have right in the middle of their living room.

John Rosenwald handles the mandolin and lead vocal chores with a plain spoken easy to understand style that is refreshing in a world of bluegrass vocalists who pride themselves on straining and slurring.

Danville, Virginia native Fred Smoral does an excellent job on the Dobro and strikes that magic balance of not over-playing or under-playing. Fred also provides the bass vocals on the four part harmonies.

The banjo playing of Paul Houck reminds us what a real Scruggs roll is supposed to sound like and his playing throughout the disc is a lesson in playing clean and clear.

The CD is called "Bringing It Back" and brought back to me a good feeling of the early seventies when country, folk, rock and bluegrass began to integrate. The variety of the song selection is impressive with songs from a variety of writers ranging from Dolly Parton to Jerry Garcia. There are three originals by John Rosenwald and two exceptional instrumentals from banjoist Paul Houck. For me personally, the highlight of the disc is John's original gospel number entitled "Sinner Man" with its ear catching lyrics and flawless instrumental and vocal arrangement.  Coming in at a close second (or perhaps neck in neck) would be Houck's contribution of the instrumentals "Mar-Lu Ridge" and the eerie "Snallygaster." "Snallygaster" features the even flow of instruments trading breaks in an impressive laid-back style that deserves the attention of bluegrass pickers everywhere.

A legend at the turn of the century in Western Maryland, the Snallygaster was a creature resembling a dragon that terrorized small towns and scared children. This banjo-memorial of the wicked beast takes its stand in a minor key that courts an impressive melody line ripe and ready for bluegrass radio.

Another highlight is the Hunter/Garcia penned "Brown-Eyed Woman"
which has the potential of becoming a bluegrass standard with its
references to "homemade whiskey" and of course, "brown-eyed women."

I get handed a lot of CD's from bands throughout the country and this is one that still continues to receive airtime in my disc player. I appreciate hearing a band that is successful without rehashing "over-done" tunes from other bluegrass bands.

A staple of the Maryland music scene since the early eighties, the Orchard Boys bring to bluegrass a style that anyone can enjoy. The smooth instrumental work and easy voices of the Orchard Boys combined with a repertoire of original songs, undiscovered gems, and the occasional standard get a blue ribbon at my county fair every time.

Good pickin' boys... and I don't mean apples!