Billy Bright and Geoff Union Trio
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Billy Bright and Geoff Union Trio

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Band Country Bluegrass

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A delightfully diverse, lighthearted folkie-bluegrass set, with some old-fashioned, western-themed numbers, straight-up truegrass, Grismanesque instrumentals, and endearing, goofy whimsies such as "You Can't Run Away From Your Feet." I really enjoyed this album a lot... it's one of those records that, somehow, has managed to stay in the CD carousel for several weeks, while others fly through faster than hummingbirds in a honey factory... Why has this one outlasted the rest? I guess it's because of the low-key approach, the obvious sense that these folks had a lot of fun making the record, and the relaxed folkish vibe, which reminds me of Happy Traum's old albums, and the confidence the band has in its own music. There are no paid consultants or marketing geniuses in there, mucking it all up, but they also manage to sidestep most of the cutesy-cloying pitfalls that many modern folkies fall for, maintaining just the right balance of goofiness and rootsiness. Recommended! - Slipcue.com


It’s a safe bet that in all of bluegrass music there has not been a song that mentions steel corrugators or 26-guage panels. Until now, that is, for singer/guitarist Geoff Union has corrected that omission with “Cold As Steel,” a “true life” tale rich in detail about his grandfather pilfering one such corrugator and hauling it south to Cape Fear in 1940. There, in a metaphorical sense, it reshapes his life.
That’s just one of six singularly or co-written originals the Austin, Texas-based Union includes along with two original instrumentals on his debut CD. Two of those songs are moonshiner songs, one of them, “Spirit Of 94,” probably the only bluegrass song about the Whiskey Rebellion, the other, “Lewis Redmond,” a dance-like song about a ne’er-do-well liquor seller whose neighbors remember him as the “sunshine of our lives.” Think of the latter song as a more intense “Dooley.” As with “Cold As Steel,” both are great visual songs.
More opaque is the opener, “Devil’s Card.” It’s hard to get a handle on what’s going on, but it appears someone is coming for the protagonist, and he’s waiting with a gun. What’s fascinating is the way the lyricist, Jim Harris, compresses time by cataloguing the surroundings down to the flick of a cat’s tail. That leads to the even more vague “40 Years,” a song that makes heavy use of Biblical imagery and seems to be about a life as a long struggle toward redemption. As with all the songs on this entertaining debut, you’ll need several airings to catch all the details.
Supporting Union (and his impressive guitar work) are mandolinist Billy Bright, bassists Steven Crow and Dom Fisher, banjoist Mark Maniscalco, fiddler Ricky Turpin and vocalist Christina Union. All of them give stellar performances but really shine on the Celtic-style reel, “Fannie At The Front Door,” and the gypsy jazz/Miles Davis blend of “Half Past Zero.” (Shining Castle Music, 7301 Anaqua Dr., Austin TX 78750, www.geoffunion.com.)BW
- Bluegrass Unlimited


For a musician living in Texas, Geoff Union certainly spans the country in his newest release, Cold as Steel. This Austin-based guitarist and vocalist sings about North Carolina, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado and yes, Texas, on his first solo project, out now from Shining Castle Music. Union has created an album full of original material that is sure to catch the ear of fans of modern bluegrass and acoustic music.
The eight tracks on this album are energetic, capturing the listener’s attention from the very first song. While the lyrics are sometimes vague (perhaps intentionally), the songs include vivid images. Union (and his cowriter on two tunes, Jim Harris) tell stories but don’t give away every detail. The fast-paced opener, Devil’s Card, engages listeners with the story of a man with a gun who’s up to no good. Water in the Well offers a take on the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side, in which the singer is setting off from Texas for new opportunities elsewhere. Even though he doesn’t know exactly what might be waiting for him, he still knows that “whichever way you’re headed, there’s water in the well.
One of the album’s standout songs is the title track. Union wrote Cold as Steel about his grandfather, who worked for Bethlehem Steel and whose quick mind allowed him to use a flood to help him steal machinery and start a new life in North Carolina. Even though Union’s grandfather’s story probably isn’t well-known outside of his family, it’s just unusual enough to be compelling.
Two other songs also cover somewhat historical topics, also with an illegal twist. Spirit of ’94 is a traditional-sounding tune about the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 in western Pennsylvania, when farmers created an uprising against a new whiskey tax. Lewis Redmond has a Celtic flair and tells the story of a legendary moonshiner from western North Carolina. These two songs are both interesting, but may be somewhat confusing to listeners who are not familiar with the stories behind them.
Union has also composed two instrumentals for the album: the jazzy, swingy, David Grisman-influenced Half Past Zero and the much more traditional Fannie at the Front Door. These two songs, along with the rest of the music on the album, are performed well by obviously experienced musicians. Union’s Tony Rice-inspired guitar picking is joined by Billy Bright (mandolin and mandola), Steven Crow (bass), Dom Fisher (bass), Mark Maniscalco (banjo), and Ricky Turpin (fiddle). Union’s wife Christina also contributes harmony vocals throughout the album.
- Bluegrass Today


Discography

2012 Geoff Union 'Cold as Steel'
2011 Two High String Band 'Live at Fiddler's Green'
2011 Billy Bright and Chojo Jacques 'Texacali Blues'
2010 Two High String Band 'Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito'
2009 Geoff Union 'Big Sky Tonight'
2006 Two High String Band 'Moonshine Boogie'
2003 Two High String Band 'Insofarasmuch'

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Bio

Billy Bright and Geoff Union have been playing music together for almost 15 years. They were both long-time members of the Two High String Band (bluegrass), performing at festivals, concert series, and clubs nationwide from 2002-2011. After separate forays into different musical directions, Billy and Geoff have teamed up again to continue down the path of the music they make so well together. Their novel repertoire melds songwriting, composition, instrumental dexterity and bluegrass 'drive' into an original presentation that wows audiences with its combination of raw power, speed, unique lyrical content and sophisticated melodies and improvisation.

In 2012, Bright and Union completed work on a Geoff Union recording entitled 'Cold as Steel'; eight original tunes performed by a five piece bluegrass ensemble, produced by Billy and recorded in his “mando cave”. The CD has aired on over 70 bluegrass stations nationwide and has garnered positive review from several national publications including Bluegrass Today and Bluegrass Unlimited.
Since then, the two have recruited talented Austin bassist Steven Crow (who also appears on 'Cold as Steel') and have been performing at clubs and festivals regionally in Texas such as the Cactus Cafe in Austin, Fire on the Strings Festival in Houston, Llano Bluebell Bluegrass Festival in Llano, and Rice Grass in Fischer, TX. The Billy Bright and Geoff Union Trio will also play 2 headlining sets at the 3rd annual John Hartford Memorial Festival, at Bean Blossom, IN, June 1st.

Work has begun on an album project featuring new songs and instrumentals that will further push the boundary of familiar expectations that should be available in the winter of 2013-14. Until then and beyond, look for this Trio to continue putting their unique stamp on the traditions of Bill Monroe, John Hartford, and Norman Blake.