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Big Storm Album Review
By independent journalist Steve Wong

Have you ever had a feeling deep inside your gut that something big is about to happen? Maybe you’ve been warned, and the tension is building… anticipation is growing… it is inescapable. Be it good or be it bad, it will be a relief when whatever is coming from over yonder finally arrives.

It has arrived, and it is Pretty Little Goat’s third studio album -- Big Storm, 10 very satisfying songs that set a new standard for reimagining the roots of Western North Carolina’s native music. There are five pieces by band leader, lead singer, and mandolinist Josh Carter; four new-takes on traditional root pieces; and one by Barret Davis, an honorary member of the goat herd.

It is not until you enjoy the first two songs of the album that you finally get to the heart of this collection, the title song. But let that thought prey in your mind for a few moments while we consider the opening instrumental -- Fisher’s Hornpipe -- that quickly launches the album with a hoot and holla and dives in head first with some fancy fiddling by guest artist Madeline Dierauf.  Fisher’s Hornpipe, a simple and historically important instrumental, gets you off the couch for a little old-fashioned leg shaking. If it sounds a bit familiar, it should because it is one of the world’s most popular fiddle tunes, dating back to the 1770s. Madeline leads the herd of pickers and strummers with her rising and falling tempos, taking listeners on a journey that strongly hints of English reels and Irish folk music, both merged with the spirit of American bluegrass.

In an effort to get in a little happiness before the Big Storm arrives, songstress Mallory Carter reassures us with Making Time (another song that Josh wrote) that no matter what happens in life, all we can do is keep a bright outlook and stay the course. Here, her clear and pure voice refuses to strain or try too hard to be more perfect than it naturally is. The melody gently bounces, sways and swings with underpinning jazz, string plucks, and snares by guest drummer Jeff Sipe. Some midpoint instrumental solos set the song in cruise mode for just a few measures before Mallory wraps up with the notion that even in death, making time is all any of us can do.

Like an authoritative warning from above, Josh’s strong and masculine voice is front and center in this title track, never wavering from its mission to get us ready for whatever comes next in life. Big Storm has a traditional structure of verses and chorus allowing us to experience the building excitement through repetition and variation. This bluegrass piece has a harbinger and driving rhythm, supported by lyrics so meaningful that you want to play it over and over again to ferret out every word, every chord, every bit of musical fortelling. Grounded in tradition, Josh makes this track current and relevant with lyrics like “Hope you got all of your groceries, got your storm shutters on, and a generator for your house.” There’s also a spooky element to it: some sound effects behind the banjo picking, prepping us for a “dark and stormy night.” This is the song that touches us in places we might not like, and makes us ask ourselves, what are we running from and what’s to come?

If you are like me, the order in which songs are presented on an album is important. With Big Storm behind us, the remaining songs allow us to simply enjoy the music -- ever mindful there is more to what meets the ear.

30 Mile is a bit of a country throwback. Josh’s voice takes on an old-time quality to storytell about fast cars, girls, and moonshine. It’s short and fast with wonderful banjo and some humorous instrumental riffs. Mallory is heard not too far in the background, and as she often does, not just supporting the lead singer but accenting him.

Uncle Joe/Leather Britches is a fun mash-up of two traditional songs, starting out slow and steady, perfect for  intentional dancing to music that is a bit bluegrass, old-time, and British folk. Then in a wink, the music goes upbeat with Leather Britches for a more American sound, still with echoes of Scott/Irish roots. Inasmuch this piece starts easy, it ends with a bang!

Sad, sad, sad. It is not often that a song makes my eyes water, but Mallory’s rendition of this old traditional song -- Undone In Sorrow -- left me sniffling. Like the woman -- Ola Belle Reed -- who put this song on the map, Mallory knows how to tell a story with her voice. But unlike Ola’s iconic rasp, Mallory as always is clear and high. With tight backup harmony and soaring fiddling, Undone In Sorrow is the song you want to hear when a good old-fashioned cry is in order.

The instrumental Running on the Beach allows the musical skills of the band to be appreciated. In contrast to this cut of refinement, the band then presents Home with Cider, another mash-up of traditional songs. They start off steady and carefully paced with Home with the Gals in the Morning, like a man seeking refuge after a night of hard partying. The somewhat solemn mood is quickly replaced with a banjo intro into Cider, a fast-paced song about the things guys like: moving fast, fast women, and fast drinking.

As the album begins to wind down, Mallory slips in one more so-sweet song: Rhyme for a Dime. This country-flavored song gently swings and sways, as Mallory is backed up by the guys. They give us a good mood, knowing that it is the simple things in life that make us happy.

Saving one of the best for last, Toe the Line by Barret Davis is one damn nice song. His raspy voice longs to return to the inspiring beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountain. In the meantime, he stands ready. The guitar and banjo combo leads Barret like gentle and familiar hands as he explores a life away from home, always longing to return. Like so many who leave to seek their fame and fortune, those from the hills know in their hearts they will eventually return to their beginnings. Toe the Line reassures us that no matter what, the Blue Ridge Mountains are here and waiting.

As a collection, Big Storm is a triumph of what makes modern mountain music a favorite for those who want to build on tradition. It is a diverse album that combines both original and traditional storytelling with excellent musicality. It is both epic and personal, and the songs will stay with you, especially as you ponder the beauty and wonder how such music is a product of the place Pretty Little Goat calls home.

Press

“WNC’s most authentic string band.” -Blue Ridge Now  Read the Article

Blue Ridge National Heritage Artist Directory

"Western North Carolina’s Pretty Little Goat is an interesting and unorthodox string band. Working in the format of an old time group, they have a bluegrass attitude, and the rowdy energy of a jamgrass outfit. To that, add thoughtful songwriting and a willingness to take chances with the genre, and you have a perfect band for today’s pluralistic, fusion-oriented music scene." -John Lawless, Bluegrass Today

Read the Article

“A 2022 band [Pretty Little Goat] pushing out a sound unidentifiable by time…‘Fishers Hornpipe’ is a jig-ready reel, where the fiddle is solid in the drivers seat bucking over a bouncy rhythm, while a cut like ‘Big Storm,’ with its plugged-in steel has an alternative country chug and a clawhammer rhythm delivered as a proper partnership.”

-- Bryant Liggett, The Alternate Root

The Bluegrass Situation Song Premier: "30 Mile Run"