The majority of the brothers' pieces are instrumental; those with lyrics on their latest release, Between the Notes, involve an old man sneaking out of a nursing home, a bluegrass treatment of a love poem by Christina Rossetti, various people who reflect on the impermanence of life while watching clouds roll by, the aftermath of a late winter storm with spring in the air, and a depiction of the figure of Jason from the mythical story of the golden fleece. The music still features a banjo as lead instrument, but the brothers point out that they're not a bluegrass band--there's no fiddle or mandolin--and bluegrass is less pervasive now than influences that seem to come from the world of classical music: Between the Notes is full of Renaissance-era modal harmonies that make the banjo sound like a rich-voiced and somewhat twangier lute. There are hints of jazz, and even of minimalism, all boiled down to a very tight trio format. Most pieces qualify as complex, but they never lose a relaxed, luminous quality.
The Kruger Brothers appeal to those who enjoy the forward edge of new acoustic music--Darol Anger, Bela Fleck, maybe Chris Thile or Nickel Creek. But the mixture of elements in their music is unique, and the visitor to their concerts has a very strong sense of having entered a charmed corner of the musical universe. The Kruger Brothers come to the Ark, where they have a devoted group of fans, on February 11.
[Originally published in February, 2011.]