Colebrook Road’s “On Time” blends contemporary bluegrass with traditional roots

Review by Chris A. Courogen

The Central Pennsylvania bluegrass band Colebrook Road’s name references a two-lane country road that winds through the countryside sort of in between the cities of Harrisburg and Lancaster.

It’s a fitting moniker in a number of ways. For starters, it sort of represents the connection between the bands’ five members, some of whom live near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital, and some of whom live close to Lancaster, about an hour to the east. Between the two bustling urban centers, Colebrook Road wins through rich farmland, much of it tended to by Amish farmers, members of a religious sect that eschews modern conveniences lie automobiles and electricity in favor of horse drawn carriages and plows.

It’s not unlike the music on the band’s third album, “On Time,” which weaves between modern, progressive bluegrass and songs solidly rooted in tradition. All in all, like a drive on Colebrook Road on a bright, spring afternoon with the sunroof open and the music loud, it makes for a very enjoyable ride.

Gutarist Jesse Eisenbise handles most of the vocals and wrote most of the songs. Eisenbise. and mandolinist Wade Yankey, formed the band 10 years ago. Fiddler Joe McAnulty and bassman Jeff Campbell made it a quartet initially. These days the band is a five-piece outfit with Mark Rast on the five string and dobro.

To borrow what seems to be everybody’s favorite compliment, they are the real deal. The band has been busy on the festival circuit, including an appearance at the venerable Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. They also were part of the IBMA’s Bluegrass Ramble last fall. 

Yankey, Mcanulty, and Rast are all decorated award-winners on their tools. Eisenbise is a fine flat-picker with a strong, clear voice and a knack for writing intelligent, contemporary lyrics that feel old and familiar like a favorite sweater.

It doesn’t take long to get into “On Time.” The album opens with the title cut, an ode to the morning commute. McAnulty kicks it off with the fiddle and the rest of the band kicks it into high gear. It’s a musical time-lapse video of early morning in a busy train station with one hurried gent, then two and then a crowd, scurrying in different directions, all in a hurry, yet coming together like a choreographed dance.

Caged Bird, which follows, is another romp through a busy life. “It don’t matter where you roam,” Eisenbise tells us. “We’re all just heading home.”  McAnulty has a monster fiddle break in the middle of this one, one of many the classically trained violinist plays on this album.

“Farther On Down The Line,” the album’s nod to their proximity to Pennsylvania’s coal mining region, is set in another era, when miners toiled “way down in a dark and dusty mine.” But the symbolic relationship with the title cuts’ commuters is clear. Rast’s banjo opening sets the pace and the rest of the band follows.

McAnulty, whose other jobs include serving as concertmaster for a symphony orchestra, also penned the album’s lone instrumental, “Mabon.” It’s another high energy, fast-paced number, with the entire band showing off its picking prowess, including Campbell, who shows he can do more than just keep these boys driving hard by laying down a few jazz-tinged measures on a sweet bass solo.

While much of the album is played with a pace and energy that has a modern, progressive tinge, traditionalists will enjoy “On Time,” too, especially on numbers like “To Love Again,” “Cora Leigh” and “Evening Rain.”

The album’s lone cover tune is a nod to Paul Simon, and to their loyal fans, who have made their version of “Boy in the Bubble” a favorite at the band’s live shows. It’s a clever bluegrass arrangement of the Simon tune, highlighted by a percussion solo. That is right — a percussion solo. Not to worry, traditionalists. No drums were harmed in recording this number. It’s an infectious rhythm experience created entirely by tapping, striking, chopping, etc. with their string instruments. It’s even more fun to watch them do it live.

This is the band’s first album since signing with Mountain Fever Records at last August’s Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. The band co-produced the album with engineer Amanda Cook, of Mountain Fever. 

Yankey says traveling to the labels studio in Virginia was a different experience for the band, which took weeks, a little here-a little there, recording its pervious two albums independently in studios near home.

Having to track the entire album in a short, scheduled period of time was different. Yakesy said the schedule felt tighter, more focused, and more businesslike. You can hear that on the album.

“On Time” is available on CD or Vinyl through the band’s web site at https://colebrookroad.com/store. The album is also available on most major download and streaming sites.