The Portland band, chosen to be U.S. cultural ambassadors in the fall, plays One Longfellow Square Saturday.
Tumbling Bones is a Portland-based bluegrass band and Saturday night will be their first show back in Maine since completing a tour in Ireland, England, Germany and the southern United States. They had best keep track of their passports; the band is heading for parts unknown in November.
Tumbling Bones draws inspiration from old bluegrass and pre-WWII folk songs. Their original tunes and take on traditional ones have rock ‘n’ roll coursing through them because that’s what the band was raised on.
Their new album is “Loving a Fool,” recorded at Great North Sound Society studios in Parsonsfield.
Pete Winne plays guitar, banjo and harmonica. Jake Hoffman is on banjo and upright bass and Kyle Morgan is on guitar and upright bass. All three share vocal duties, though Morgan handles lead on most tunes and writes most of the songs. The vocal harmonies on “Shady Green Pastures” made me want to get down on my knees, or climb to the top of a mountain, in a spiritual frenzy.
“Red Rose” gave me thoughts of doing a jig at the nearest cemetery. “She picked herself a red, red rose to lay on William’s grave, and then put on all her finest clothes and prayed ‘Lord make me brave.’ ” Turns out, the grave wasn’t that of her husband or son. Nope, my guess is that William was a secret love and this gal is secretly heartbroken. Things don’t end well in this tale, but what a terrific song that starts quietly and ends in a flurry.
“This Time Last Year,” is a lonesome little tale of a fella trying to convince himself he’s OK when he’s anything but. “I know it will come around, I’ll just try another town. I’ve come a long way since this time last year.” And hey, the song’s got a musical saw in it.
Old-time, country-tinged sad songs always pack more of a punch because they’re honest, stark and you can hear the pain in the vocals. Said another way, I love ’em.
One more song I’ll rave about is “Just Because.” It is a foot-stomping, banjo strummin’, fiddle playin’ good time. No heartbreak in this one. The fella is sending his gal packing, and he’s psyched about it. “Well you made me spend all my money, then you laughed and called me old Santa Claus. Well I’m telling you honey, I’m leaving you because … just because.”
Getting back to Tumbling Bones being an international band of mystery, check this out: They’ve been selected for American Music Abroad, a U.S. State Department cultural ambassadorship that will send the band packing for an entire month.
Winne explained that it’s a competitive program, and interested bands had to submit resumes, proposed educational curricula for music students, music and video samples and answer several questions. Some 250 acts applied, and 50 were invited for an audition that included a performance of two original songs, a performance of their interpretation of a foreign folk song, a sample educational presentation for children and a Q&A session designed to assess the band’s ability to serve as cultural ambassadors.
“We selected a song from Kyrgyzstan and a short square dancing workshop,” said Winne. “In the end, we were one of 10 groups that were chosen.”
The band will be traveling for the month of November. “All we know is that it will be in some country that isn’t regularly exposed to American music,” said Winne. He speculated that it will likely be a region where the Peace Corps is represented, such as Central America, sub-Saharan Africa or central Asia.
The month-long residency will consist of performing, teaching music to local youth and collaborating with local musicians for combined performances.
Winne says the band is thrilled to have such a unique experience. “In the past we’ve traveled and played music in places like Ireland, England and Germany, but that’s the extent under normal circumstances where we can go with our music. A bluegrass band would never have this opportunity. We get to travel and see the world and do what we love.”
Winne said he’d let me know when the band gets assigned a location, so look for a follow-up as November draws closer. In the meantime, head to One Longfellow Square on Saturday night and catch Tumbling Bones live.
Tumbling Bones with Spuyten Duyvil. 8 p.m. Saturday. One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland. $12; onelongfellowsquare.com