Local string band PossumHaw might seem in danger of becoming just a backup band for vocalist Colby Crehan, a true rising star in Vermont. Yet the revamped ensemble generally manages to strike a balance between featuring the talents of its increasingly renowned front woman and the tasteful instrumental work. On their third effort, Fortune’s Name, PossumHaw deliver sterling arrangements that are polished to a shine. Some of the credit belongs to the man who worked the dials: veteran producer and engineer Colin McCaffrey. One of Vermont’s most prolific and experienced purveyors of quality acoustic music, he has a talent for achieving a crisp sound, and it really works for PossumHaw here.
The additions of ace mandolinist Stephen Waud and bassist Pat Melvin are a bonus. Unlike many bluegrass-style mandolin players, Waud doesn’t sound as if he’s trying to imitate another, more famous player. His chops don’t merely fit; they’re interesting. As for Melvin, he makes his presence known but never gets in the way, which is just about the highest compliment one can pay a bass player.
Banjo player and harmonicat Ryan Crehan — Colby’s husband — and guitarist-keyboardist Charley Eiseman manage to avoid many of the jamgrass-style leads that defined the band’s sound on earlier albums. This allows for a leaner and more focused approach to the tunes. But, as was the case with previous efforts, Colby Crehan shines like a diamond. She writes most of the songs, sings lead on every vocal number, and generally adds a velvety touch of class to the music.
Crehan also moonlights as the female lead vocalist for the Bluegrass Gospel Project, and it’s likely the time spent with that five-star outfit has made her singing even stronger and more self-assured. Whether it’s on a killer version of the Johnny Rivers’ ballad “Poor Side of Town” or on “The Cup,” one of her sassy originals, she digs in or soars at just the right moments. Listeners will be happy that Crehan is still driving this train, and also likely will be grateful for the changes PossumHaw have made to produce this fine collection of music.
PossumHaw will perform selections from Fortune’s Name this Friday, April 23, at the North End Studio in Burlington; and Saturday, April 24, at the WalkOver Gallery in Bristol. See calendar for details.