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Album Review

As if the idea of a Czech bluegrass band isn't enough of a head-turner, Druha Trava tackles some bizarre material on this, the group's first record released outside Central Europe. Chick Corea's "Spain" as a banjo workout? King Henry VIII's "Greensleeves" as an Appalachian ballad? A hoedown based on a dance from Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride? (The band is tapping into more than one set of roots on that one.) The amazing thing is that all of these experiments work out pretty well. So does some, but not all, of the band's original material. Vocalist Robert Krest'an has a pleasing voice, but his command of English lyrics wasn't fully developed and in some cases his songs are unintentionally funny. If you listen to his voice as music, the songs are quite decent, and regardless of such quibbles there is plenty to like on this album. Druha Trava is such a good band that even the weirdest material sounds great, and a lot of the cuts here are first-rate. Banjo virtuoso Lubos Malina contributes excellent playing throughout the album, as well as an instrumental called "Brazos Bottom" that ought to become a bluegrass standard everywhere. That mutated version of Smetana is pretty fine too, and the version of Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee" is about as different from the original as you can get, but it sounds wonderful. As an introduction to a crack band that takes plenty of risks and has most of them pay off, Czechmate is a disc worth seeking out.


Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The bluegrass unit called Druha Trava has been crafting their own traditional folk-rock sound since 1991 when the band formed in its native Czech Republic. Their multi-instrumentation is solid and quite intricate in capturing the sound of Central Europe. Druha Trava, which means "Second Grass," came together under the mind of international country/bluegrass star Robert Krestan. Krestan's love for the five-string banjo stems back to his love for Pete Seeger, who performed in Krestan's native homeland...
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Czechmate, Druha Trava
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