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Mustaches and Mandolins from Kalamazoo: Greensky Bluegrass returns to Bend behind its best album to date 

Mustaches and all Greensky Bluegrass returns to Bend.

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As a man who wears a mustache year round, I had to ask Dave Bruzza, the guitarist for Greensky Bluegrass, if he had any special grooming plans for "Movember," the unofficial moustache solidarity month currently underway on a lip near you.

"Nothing special. Every day, it's always mustache time. I am a fan of the mustache," says Bruzza who also shares in the vocal and songwriting duties for the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based band that hasn't been through Bend for a couple of years.

While the noble mustache is becoming more and more commonplace these days, it still says, "Hey man, I'm for fun, I'm for good times," which is a fitting for a member of a fun-loving bluegrass band that dips its toes into a number of genre pools.

It's not as if Greensky Bluegrass has invented a new brand of music - they haven't. The new-grass movement, which first gained traction in the late 1960s as elements of rock and roll were blended with traditional acoustic bluegrass music, remains very popular today. If the progressive bluegrass torch was first lit by the likes of John Hartford, bands like Yonder Mountain String Band continue to carry the torch today.

It's that what Greensky does, it does well. Yonder Mountain has the drug references and the jams, Nickel Creek has a youth-powered pop sound, Railroad Earth has jazz and Celtic on lockdown, and Greensky has serious songwriting (quite serious, at times) tempered with whimsical, mustache wearing light-heartedness and some damn good instrumentals.

The five-piece Michigan band (which utilizes a guitar, dobro, upright bass, banjo and mandolin) just released its fourth album in seven years, one that has been incredibly well received. Called Handguns, it's by far the most polished and best-produced record in their collection (they also have three live albums). They even earned a glowing review in Rolling Stone for their performance at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park just over a month ago. Such praise is well deserved. Again, Greensky hasn't broken any new ground, but they have done a bang-up job of carving out their own spot in the progressive bluegrass scene by mastering all the traditional bluegrass elements and combining them effortlessly with some fun elements from across the musical spectrum.

"It's quite a change from our first record. Coming from so many diverse musical backgrounds, we've really come into our own," says Bruzza of the band's latest release.

Handguns is at times dark (though never overly so, remember the mustache), goofy (there's a kazoo in at least one song), jazzy (plenty of horns), and jam-bandy (six songs on the album are five minutes or longer).

"I've been telling my friends that hands down, out of everything I've ever done, this is my favorite album," says Bruzza, who has been with the band since it began in 2000.

Handguns opens with "Don't Lie," a dobro-heavy Jerry-Douglas-esque tune, lamenting change and bad decisions (one of three absolute favorites on the album). The following song, "Handguns," the track for which the album got its name, has that contented melancholy sound so familiar to many bluegrass tunes (another favorite).

Then there are tracks like "Blood Sucking F(R)iends," written by Bruzza, a fun sing-songy tale about disappointingly fickle acquaintances, a song that reflected how Bruzza was feeling at the time.

"I'm pretty personal with my writing. Life was pretty difficult, but it's a little tongue-in-cheek," he says of the song. "I was listening to a lot of John Prine at the time. It's amazing how he could get such a big point across with just a few words and a little humor," adds Bruzza.

Bruzza also wrote the playful instrumental "Hot Dogs (On Parade)." It's the song with the kazoo. "I'd Probably Kill You," has pretty heavy lyrics, but is betrayed by its up-tempo, New Orleans-style big-band sound, which is full of tooting horns.

Smack dab in the middle of the album is "Jaywalking," (the third in my trio of favorites). Another song about getting into big trouble ("It's not like we were jaywalking," go the lyrics), "Jaywalking" tells the story of a person trying to duck responsibility for an egregious act. Both the message and the tune make it easy to relate to, one of Greensky's trademarks, and a large part of what has helped their popularity soar in recent years. It's clear that the members of Greensky enjoy what they're doing.

The band recently adorned '80s costumes and played a Halloween show at the Fox Theater in Boulder, Colo,. where the set list read like an '80s greatest hits cassette tape. Bruzza remembers the cover-show with a soft chuckle and goes on to tell me about a giant inflatable mustache the band brings to the stage on occasion.

"It started as kind of a joke or social experiment, but I've become fond of it," admits Bruzza of his own facial hair. "It's been great, more and more fans have been showing up with fake mustaches."

Greensky Bluegrass with Hot Buttered Rum

7pm Wednesday, November 16
GoodLife Brewing Co.,

70 SW Century Dr. 100-464. $15


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