Album Review

Mighty Poplar - Mighty Poplar

The supergroup have made a formidable impression, one that maintains a clear reverence for their roots.

Mighty Poplar - Mighty Poplar Album Cover
March 27, 2023 4:58 pm GMT
Last Edited May 2, 2023 4:57 pm GMT

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Mighty Poplar - Mighty Poplar

Label: Free Dirt Records

Release Date: March 31st, 2023

Producers: Alex Hargreaves, Andrew Marlin, Chris Eldridge, Greg Garrison and Noam Pikelny

Tracklisting:

1. A Distant Land to Roam

2. Up on the Divide

3. Grey Eagle

4. Lovin’ Babe

5. Blackjack Davy

6. North Country Blues

7. Little Joe

8. Let Him Go On Mama

9. Kicking Up The Devil on a Holiday / Dr. Hecock’s Jig

10. Story of Isaac

A group with such a name may steal attention from the outset, given that Mighty Poplar boast such a decidedly telling handle. Yet it’s one that owes, at least in part, to their superstar status. It’s of course unavoidable, considering that the band is made up of Andrew Marlin of Watchhouse, Noam Pikelny and Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers, Leftover Salmon bassist and vocalist Greg Garrison and Billy Strings’ favorite fiddler, Alex Hargreaves.

Nevertheless, there’s also an honest infusion of humility invested in this all-star initiative. The set list consists of standards, some of the traditional variety and others by revered songwriters — among them, AP Carter, John Hartford, Bob Dylan and Leonard Carter.

While the reverence is apparent, the band’s ability to interpret each offering with its own drive and dexterity is immediately evident. Hartford’s ‘Let Him Go on Mama’ is flush with verve and vitality, while their take on Dylan’s ‘North Country Blues’ stays true to the song’s origins, with a reverent attitude and an approach that’s authentic rather than academic. A relatively recent offering, ‘Up on the Divide’ by Martha Scanlan is tender and touching thanks to the aural imagery that shines through in every verse and chorus. Cohen’s ‘Story of Isaac’ shares the previous song’s sobering sentiments, along with a purposeful dive into some deeper desire.

The emotional chemistry is also evident in the album’s lively instrumental offerings — ‘Grey Eagle’ and ‘Kicking Up the Devil on a Holiday / Dr. Heck’s Jig’ — each of which are bursting with robust revelry and unfailing exuberance. Each of the players shine in their solos, bringing bluegrass basics to the fore. That seems to be the point entirely, allowing these successful musicians the opportunity to step away from their respective ensembles and get back to the foundations. Indeed, hype often overshadows accomplishment, but in this case, superstardom seems incidental and it’s the players’ prowess that really counts.

Whether or not Mighty Poplar becomes an ongoing endeavor or merely a momentary sideline remains to be seen. Regardless, Marlin, Pikelny, Eldridge, Garrison and Hargreaves have made a formidable impression, and one that maintains a clear reverence for their roots.

8/10.

Mighty Poplar's self-titled debut album is released March 31st via Free Dirt Records.

For more reviews and release dates for country music albums in 2023, see below:

Written by Lee Zimmerman
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