The Scoville Units (Get Real Records, 2011)
Originally formed for a one-off appearance at Celtic Connections, the lure of cementing this musical relationship in the studio proved irresistible for The Scoville Units. British banjo wizard, Leon Hunt, was originally called upon to concoct this ensemble, and he wasted no time in bringing together some of the foremost talents in acoustic music, each renowned for their characterful, genre-traversing style. Former member of Flook, Ed Boyd, lines up the pulsing rhythms of his guitar alongside Josh Clarke’s subtle yet vibrant percussion, the vivacious mandolin of Rex Preston, the sturdy double bass of Miranda Sykes, and the jazz-infused hues of Gina Griffin’s uninhibited fiddle. Griffin also adds her deliciously laid-back vocals to the mix, further embellishing the diverse sounds that permeate the band’s mix of traditional and self-penned material.
Right from the off, the band display a heady fusion of traditions from either side of the Atlantic, with a bluegrass-infused interpretation of “Scarborough Fair” bursting to life with animated ornamentations that imbue the melody’s natural sobriety with a contagious and at times triumphant ebullience.
The restraint with which “Glory at the Meeting House” begins, really whets the appetite with a gentle precision that teases each note from the various strings, underpinned by the subtle rolling rhythm of a laconic cajon. It’s almost like listening in slow motion, and a rare moment during which one can really take in the individual prowess and subtleties that each musician contributes.
If it’s pulsating, racy music that floats your boat, then your boat will be well and truly carried away in an almighty ocean swell. The traditional “Hangman’s Reel” embodies every aural quirk that the band
has to offer, with the banjo, mandolin and fiddle racing each other in a seamlessly flamboyant bluegrass flurry, hurried along by the chasing rhythms of guitar and percussion.
Gina Griffin’s wonderfully unfussy, unaffected vocals grace a few tracks, bringing a glowing effervescence as she skips joyously through “Angeline,” and an honest warmth as she wraps her voice around the wistful lyrics of her own composition, “White Pebbles.” Her improvised scat vocals lend a full-bodied nonchalance to some of the tunes, and a distinct jazz tinge to the band’s otherwise traditional sounds.
This album provides an invigorating and intoxicating fusion of bluegrass and Celtic music, with each musician occupying a very distinct, left-of-centre position on the genre spectrum, which results
in music that never settles for a predictable comfort zone, but pushes subtly at genre boundaries with an understated panache. It works so well, simply because it sounds so effortless.
One might suggest that The Scoville Units do a fine job of filling the gap left by Nickel Creek; one might equally suggest that they possibly outclass them.