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May 9, 2013

Diamond Hill Station goes bold in ‘Katy Bar the Door’ album

TERRE HAUTE — On the second track of Diamond Hill Station’s new CD, the band deftly rambles through a catchy, love-gone-wrong song called “Same Old Thing.”

There’s a beautiful irony in its title, because the Terre Haute-based bluegrass quartet’s latest album, “Katy Bar the Door,” is anything but the “same old thing.” It contains all original material, with the four members sharing the songwriting and lead vocal duties, in refreshingly bold fashion. The CD jacket cover features a billowing tornado, blending everything in its path, and the disc similarly stirs hints of jazz, blues and rock into Diamond Hill Station’s traditional bluegrass genre base. The group even takes on a fugue — a composition style rooted in 18th-century Europe.

As singer-guitarist Michael White stated, “We have always tried to separate ourselves from the other cookie-cutter bands, and with ‘Katy Bar the Door,’ we feel we have achieved that goal.” Indeed, mission accomplished.

Of course, attempting such a Beatles-esque democracy in writing and vocalizing comes with risk. The songlist offers no old standards to catch ears and jog memories. Likewise, stepping into a lead-singing spotlight may nudge some musicians outside their comfort zones. With a decade-long history as a band, Diamond Hill Station proves up to the challenge.

The two founding members, White and bassist Lloyd Shonk, deliver two varieties of compositions.

White covers heartache, loss and longing in “Same Old Thing,” “Nashville County Line,” “Dark Hollow Bend” and “Pretty Little Sally.” Any of the four will be crowd-pleasers at future gigs, but “Dark Hollow Bend” spins a woeful yet captivating tale of a young man who snubbed his mother’s warnings to steer clear of the river with catastrophic results.

Shonk injects spirit and sentimentality with rich gospel harmonizing on “Highway to Heaven” (written by his mother, Velda) and his own “Sundown,” a tribute to his father.

In his turn at the wheel, banjo ace Bruce Anderson steers Diamond Hill Station into fun detours off the bluegrass main street. “Tailspin Fugue” dips a toe into the 1800s classical pool, while “Storm in the Skillet” employs a folk-rock flavor; either of the two instrumentals could add color to a movie soundtrack. Anderson adds “Distant Star,” lyrically connecting the dots between constellations and a lost love, with shimmering major-to-minor chord changes. Each reveals the band’s fine instrumental chops.

Mandolinist Dave Bagdade shows a keen understanding of a good song hook, penning the title track, “We Can Just Pretend” and “Somebody Else’s Problem.” The opener, “Katy Bar the Door,” describes a true love in a prairie homestead, where “things are real pleasant here in no-man’s land” and a couple braces together for a storm, huddled under the stairs, “bundled in her prayers.” By contrast, “We Can Just Pretend” playfully hopes for a connection that may not exist, while “Somebody Else’s Problem” bids a humorous, relieved, don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out “goodbye” to an old flame who ran off.

The album remains experimental yet cohesive, with veteran producer Don Arney overseeing the recording process at his Quantam Music Production studio in southern Vigo County, along with assistant mix engineer Joe Syester. The end result, “Katy Bar the Door,” is an almost-perfect storm of bluegrass-driven creativity.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

Finding the sounds

“Katy Bar the Door,” Diamond Hill Station — Look for the album online at Amazon.com, CDbaby.com and iTunes. Also, DiamondHillStationBand.com.

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