From Southern New Hampshire comes The Fretbenders, one of the few positive outcomes from the pandemic. Bob and Diane Kordas started playing music at home, then began recording and finally formed an actual band featuring live shows, guest artists and a 15-track CD titled Long Overdue, available on disc, Bandcamp or streamers.
Diane Kordas sings lead vocals, plays guitar and writes the songs; Robert also sings as well as playing dobro, slide guitars and banjo. They call their music “blues, roots and a dash of folk and country, where a down-home barbecue meets a speakeasy." Lots of songs here so I’ll discuss my favorites and point out the guest players.
Many of the tracks on this album were first released as singles, including the opener “Somebody Left Me With The Blues.” It’s an easygoing blues where we get to know the Fretbenders sound: roomy, live and highly acoustic. The players strut along together but take short turns in the spotlight, as if by osmosis. Guest players include Kent Allyn on acoustic piano, Stu Barer on memorable harmonica and Paul Wolf on percussion. Another single release “Will You Be My Darlin’ Anyway” features Bob Kordas on “resophonic guitar” (another term for “resonator”), Diane Kordas with her sweet vocals and Kent Allyn again on piano. This is a slower, more gentle tune, like a hymn or whispered confessional.
I’m not positive but on “Long Cold Winter” I believe Diane Kordas plays electric guitar with Bob Kordas on dobro, plus Ellen Carlson on fiddle. Diane’s Diana Krall-like vocals and Carlson’s Hot Licks-style violin add a smooth jazz feel to the group’s sound. Impossible to resist! On “Empty Pocket Blues” Bob Kordas shows off his limitless musical dexterity with a pass on lap steel guitar, along with new player Mike Harmon on bowed bass (which almost sounds like a tuba) and percussion. Stu Barer again shines on mouth harp.
“Grandma’s Feedsack Quilt” gets a mention just for the cool title! But this is also a good track to mention Diane Kordas’ vocal similarity to Gillian Welch (and the subject matter of her songs) and the band’s echoes of the roots production style of T Bone Burnett. If you like those artists you’ll love this song! Betsy Heron sings able harmony and plays fiddle, along with Scott Heron on banjo and second harmony. “Small Town Girl” is notably similar to Arlo Guthrie’s version of “City of New Orleans” and benefits from Justin Quinn’s mandolin and Lindsay Lassonde’s harmony vocals.
“Sunrise on Saturday” throws another curve with a cajun cha cha tune led by Stroker Rogovin’s accordion. Paul Wolf also excels on non-traditional percussion (are those spoons?). Diane Kordas nails an exceptionally beautiful chorus. “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You” is another great title and unsurprisingly feels more authentically country. Bob Kordas takes his first lead vocal and he’s got a homey, avuncular voice perfect for the loopy lyrics. “The Festival Song” feels like traditional country with Diane Kordas channeling Loretta Lynn or Patsy Cline. Dave Kiphuth adds twangy banjo, Ellen Carlson brings her fiddle and Justin Quinn fills out the song with mandolin.
“The Best Gift Mama Gave Me” is a classic backwoods story-song (“Mama said idle hands were the devil’s workshop / Always working was her way”). Loretta, Maybelle and George Jones all get callouts. The awesomely-named Stroker Rogovin returns on accordion. “Everything Is Free” is a bit of a surprise, being a folk-rock tune about our new age where most artists have to provide their wares for free: “Everything I’ve ever done / Got to give it away / They’re gonna do it anyway / Even if it doesn’t pay.” I’ll note here that the Kordas’ obviously oppose this trend as their digital downloads AND hard copy CDs are both priced at $15.
By now you should have a good idea what to expect from this group: expertly performed folk-country with a diverse and talented group of players. Listen in!