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Gordon Stone Band, Rhymes With Orange 

(Jeezum Crow Music, CD)

Can a three-piece instrumental group comprising banjo, bass and fiddle actually make funk music? While it certainly seems odd, Rhymes With Orange -- the new album by the new Gordon Stone Band -- boldly answers the question in the affirmative.

On the slick album cover, banjo/pedal steel guru Stone looks a bit like a cross between Billy Bob Thornton and Jeff "the Dude" Lebowski, but the music is what really matters here. Backed by ex-Concentric bass man Aram Bedrosian and 15-year-old fiddle whiz Mike Barnett, Stone's latest shies away from both the roots bluegrass of his early group, Pine Island, and the more recent jam-oriented stylings. All too brief at 37 minutes, the music on Rhymes could be described as funkgrass.

Bedrosian ably provides the foundation for the group; in the absence of a drummer, his muscular bass lines provide a rhythmic bedrock upon which Stone and Barnett lay their licks. A key component of the album's funky feel, Bedrosian really lets loose on "Upstart" and "Slapioca" -- both of which he co-penned. Fans of four-stringer Mike Gordon's work with Phish will particularly enjoy Bedrosian's crisp slap style.

Stone brings his own funk to "Batik," which features his tasty, staccato banjo work. His picking is, as always, impeccable, but his most noteworthy performances are on the pedal steel. Stone takes the listener for a fluid ride on "Nice Feet," evokes wistful contemplation on "Nightshade," and swaps virtuosic solos with Barnett on "Buffalo Blues."

While the term "prodigy" is probably overused, Barnett is undoubtedly one talented kid. Technically impressive and highly spirited, his playing perfectly complements Bedrosian and Stone's high-powered chops. Replicating the kind of chicken-scratch guitar typically found on albums by the likes of Kool & the Gang or Booker T & the MGs, Barnett puts his instrument in a whole new light.

The whole band clicks on standout cut "Funky Joe Clark," but it's Barnett who really shines; his intense, urgent solos simply crackle with electricity. Rhymes With Orange is solid throughout, but tracks like this one really make you hope for more from this hot new edition of GSB. Hear them May 20 at the Langdon St. Cafe in Montpelier.


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