At its heart, bluegrass music is about what happens when you commit to the moment. The joy of improvisation keeps the music fresh, and the fun of crafting ideas on the fly keeps the musicians on their toes. This true spirit of bluegrass infuses the self-titled record from Mighty Poplar, a new all-star roots project featuring Andrew Marlin of Watchhouse, Noam Pikelny and Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers, bassist Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon) and fiddler Alex Hargreaves (Billy Strings) coming March 31, 2023 on Free Dirt Records. Regarded as some of the finest players of their generation, the playing is never showy and always in service of the song. Though Pikelny, Eldridge, Garrison all knew each other from their early work with Punch Brothers, impromptu backstage jams with Marlin at festivals across the country were the key that unlocked the project. A lifelong song collector, Marlin selected and sang lead on most of the songs here, bringing classics as well as deep cuts from greats like Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, John Hartford, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Norman Blake. Throughout, the songs and tunes are as immediate and emotionally impactful as the playing is tasteful. Gathered knee-to-knee in a rural studio outside Nashville, the collaborative 10- track album emerged organically over a few days. “It felt so special and effortless; it didn’t take work,” says Eldridge, “other than the work and effort we’ve put in the rest of our lives.” With their debut album, Mighty Poplar has captured the fierce and playful energy of an all-night jam between old friends who just happen to be grandmasters of the music.
Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms