The Greencards’ name doesn’t just reference the multinational make-up of the band, it also reveals their passion for American roots and bluegrass music. This passion was strong enough that it drew each of the three founding members (Kym Warner, Carol Young and Eamon McLoughlin) to Texas, far from their respective homelands of Australia and England, so they could pursue their musical passion where it lived. And if took greencards to do this, then so be it.
The Greencards made their way from playing local bars in Austin, to releasing three acclaimed albums (with the song “Mucky the Duck” from Viridian being nominated for a Grammy), moving to Nashville, and then most recently releasing Fascination in 2009. The band’s first three albums were generally within the bluegrass genre, but Fascination finds them using the same instruments, like mandolin and fiddle, to explore sounds and expressions outside of the genre’s traditional scope. Kym Warner said this move was intentional, “We set out to make this music different from anything we did on our first three albums.” Take for instance Fascination’s title track, which Warner admitted, “There’s nothing bluegrass about that song.”
This is where the term “newgrass” is helpful. Newgrass (alternately called “progressive bluegrass”) is a label that has been given to bands like Nickel Creek, The String Cheese Incident, and Punch Brothers, but it originated in the 70’s with the band New Grass Revival. New Grass Revival were pioneers in that they took the bluegrass basics and injected it with other musical styles to the point where they ended up in new territory. They would cover Beatles and Bob Marley songs, and even though there might still be a banjo in the band, calling their music bluegrass just didn’t make sense.
All that to say that The Greencards can appropriately be called newgrass because they adventurously explore the world of music beyond bluegrass, but they are still rooted in it by their mastery of the bluegrass elements. Kym Warner isn’t the four-time winner of the Australian National Bluegrass Mandolin Championship for nothing. The Greencards’ approach seems to appeal beyond bluegrass, and to the bluegrass faithful, alike. Carol Young tells the story of the band first trying out songs from Fascination at bluegrass festivals, and how at one festival an older gentleman came up to them after and asked specifically for their newer songs. She said, “He actually said to me, ‘Hey, I like what you guys are doing - even the weird stuff.’” So, The Greencards still call bluegrass their musical home, but they aren’t afraid to travel outside of it, and whatever they bring back new to the music, it’s welcome.
- Ben Dixon