FolkWorld #78 07/2022
© Mountain Home Music Company

Across the Western Ocean

Banjo Month

Western North Carolina Bluegrass Powerhouse

Unspoken Tradition's new album, Imaginary Lines, explores new ground.

With the release of their newest full-length album, Imaginary Lines, Unspoken Tradition caps off a string of six charting singles that followed their head-turning 2019 album, Myths We Tell Our Young, and reinforces why they're known as a Western North Carolina bluegrass powerhouse. This new collection shows that the band not only survived, but thrived during the enforced hiatus of COVID-19, using the time to take new risks in exploring new sounds and songs.

Unspoken Tradition

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"Throughout the album, Unspoken Tradition has judged just how close to come to those imaginary lines, recognizing when to respect the barriers and when to push the limits," write Nancy Posey in a review for No Depression. "Without straying from their Carolina bluegrass roots, the vocal, lyrical, and instrumental variety on the album is bound to appeal to fans of folk, Americana, and traditional country music."

Unspoken Tradition

Unspoken Tradition "Imaginary Lines", Mountain Home Music Company, 2022

Bringing aboard veteran bassist/singer Sav Sankaran and producer Jon Weisberger, Unspoken Tradition stretched their collective horizons in ways both obvious and subtle, from the deployment of fiddle and bowed bass to simulate a string section on #1 hit, “California” — co-written by GRAMMY-nominee Thomm Jutz — to a searing take on Dominic Behan’s riveting coal miner’s tale, “Crooked Jack,” that features legendary Irish singer/guitarist John Doyle, to a brightly spirited cover of “The Old Swinging Bridge,” a staple of the Pennsylvania/Maryland bluegrass scene in which Sankaran came up.

The story in the band's new radio single, "Bounty Hunter," tells of good vs. evil, hubris, guilt, survival, and reciprocity, says guitarist and vocalist Audie McGinnis. "In bluegrass, there are lots of prison songs. There are some, but not as many, fugitive songs. Most of those focus on the chase, and not the 'showdown,'" he adds. "This song is cool because it details the battle between the narrator and his would be captor, and never describes the crime committed (which I assume he's guilty of, since there's talk of reaping what you sow). This song emphasizes the present obstacle...escaping just to live another day. There's something poignant in that. I also love the ego of the bounty hunter, and he meets his fate in a humbling way as well. It's a great songwriter's song, and I feel like we've put our touch on it to adopt it as a great bluegrass song."

As they have from the start, the band — Sankaran, Audie McGinnis, brother Zane McGinnis (banjo), mandolinist Ty Gilpin and Tim Gardner (fiddle, vocals) — ranges beyond typical lyric themes to dig into songs about work (“Irons In The Fire,” “Back on the Crooked Road”), reaching out across boundaries (“Carolina and Tennessee”), the changing nature of Appalachian communities (“Soldiers of Dust,” “Lookout Mountain”) and more. Rich instrumental work underpins lead vocals from McGinnis and Sankaran, who take turns harmonizing with one another in a way that, paradoxically, encourages attention to each song’s theme even as it demonstrates the singers’ individual and collective versatility. As Zane McGinnis notes, the result is that “the work put forth on this record represents the malleable nature of Unspoken Tradition as a band, with numerous musical influences united to produce our finest project to date.”

“Imaginary Lines tells a story of overcoming the barriers that have kept people from understanding the struggles their neighbors go through,” adds Gilpin. “The song ‘Carolina and Tennessee’ sings of boundaries as ‘imaginary lines’ that keep us separated from each other. It’s a metaphor for our relationships at a time when those relationships are more important than ever — and it’s also a useful metaphor for the music of this collection. The intent was for us to push our own boundaries, and not be constrained by what a bluegrass band is supposed to sound like. All that really matters are songs that people can universally relate to.”

Rooted in the fiercely distinctive culture and landscape of western North Carolina and deeply committed to blazing their own trail within the larger music community, Unspoken Tradition have, in the words of the title track, “walked in the shadows of hard times, waiting for the sun to shine” — and now, this collection announces, the waiting is over.

Listen to Imaginary Lines HERE.

Mountain Home Music Company congratulated Unspoken Tradition on the success of their single, “California,” which reached No. 1 on the Bluegrass Today chart, during their album release show at 185 King Street in Brevard, North Carolina.

“‘California’ comes to us from our buddy Thomm Jutz, and was chosen specifically because it's a tremendously well written song with a feel that we've never explored as a band. It immediately stood out to me, and I'm glad it didn't take much convincing to get the guys on board with this one,” says Unspoken Tradition vocalist and guitarist Audie McGinnis. “There are plenty of us who leave home in search of something. But what happens when you get there, and it isn't what you expected? Or maybe the urge to go back home is stronger than you might have anticipated. That's what ‘California’ is all about. This musician has moved to Nashville to chase a dream, and amidst all the music, lights, and opportunity, they feel alone and homesick, lost in the crowd. That's lonely.”

About Unspoken Tradition

Unspoken Tradition is about new, original bluegrass. Inspired by their own influences and the roots of traditional music, they bring a sound that is both impassioned and nostalgic, hard-driving but sincere. Their 2019 release from Mountain Home Music Company, Myths We Tell Our Young, debuted at #5 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts and has seen 5 top-charting radio singles, including a #1 spot on the Bluegrass Today chart for “Dark Side of the Mountain.” Their material is mostly original and reflects the ever-changing culture of Western and Central North Carolina where they call home. The band has earned a fervent following in the Southeast, selling out shows in Asheville, NC as well as the legendary Station Inn in Nashville, TN. With heavy airplay on Sirius XM’s Bluegrass Junction and ever-growing streaming numbers, Unspoken Tradition is a fast-rising voice of a new generation of roots music artists.

About Mountain Home Music Company:

Mountain Home Music Company, a division of Crossroads Label Group is a premier Bluegrass label with global distribution, representing such elite artists as Balsam Range, The Grascals, Lonesome River Band, Chris Jones & The Night Drivers, The Gina Furtado Project, Kristin Scott Benson, The Cleverlys, Danny Roberts, Sideline, Unspoken Tradition, Fireside Collective, The Alex Leach Band, Carley Arrowood, Mark Stoffel, Jaelee Roberts, Tray Wellington, Andy Leftwich, Benson, The Little Roy & Lizzy Show, Sister Sadie and Ashby Frank. Established in 1993, Crossroads is a market leader in the Bluegrass, Americana, and Christian Music fields.

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Unspoken Tradition, (3) Thomm Jutz (unknown/website).

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