When the young pickers in Austin's MilkDrive use the phrase "jazzgrass," they mean it! These are players that came out of the bluegrass tradition looking for more space to move, more places to maneuver, more room to breathe. Their new album, Waves, is as informed by pop songwriting and jazz breaks as it is by Bill Monroe, so don't let the presence of all acoustic instruments and a hefty slice of banjo, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin-driven Americana fool you. While they're not the first group taking bluegrass into chamber ensembles and jazz clubs, they are playing it the hardest, never losing sight of how much fun the music should be!
With their second album, Waves, young Austin jazz-grass pickers MilkDrive are poised to move into the national spotlight. These young road warriors have been grinding pavement for the past few years, bringing their roots music to venues across the United States, and building a solid and engaged fan base. It’s no surprise why they’re winning such grassroots praise: their picking is as tight as a tick, their original songs crackle with energy, and their arrangements bring a high level of complexity to the music. MilkDrive is not what you’d expect from a young band of once-bluegrass musicians. Their songs channel the Beatles and 70s folk-rock as much as The Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe, and it’s a testament that they can nail these varied and iconic influences on fully acoustic instruments with minimal production. But don’t mistake these many influences for irreverence to the tradition, for MilkDrive cut their teeth on the classics, but they’re not afraid to plow new ground, and to push the music in new directions.
They came together as precocious kids jamming into the wee hours at the National Old-Time Festival of Weiser, Idaho, and winning awards for their virtuosic instrumentals. Then they cut their teeth in Austin’s ultra-competitive bar scene, and took on the weight of developing their singing and songwriting. Now young lions of jazz-grass, MilkDrive has brought on legendary 7-time Grammy award winning producer Bill VornDick (Jim Lauderdale, Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss) to produce Waves, their sophomore album. Capturing the band’s sophisticated arrangements and fierce musicianship, the album showcases a number of original compositions and features guests Noam Pikelny (of Punch Brothers) and Futureman (of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones). So who are the award-winning instrumentalist members of MilkDrive? Brian Beken leads off on fiddle and main vocals, Noah Jeffries follows on guitar and harmony vocals, with Dennis Ludiker on mandolin and harmony vocals, and Matt Mefford on double bass. On Waves, each band member shines, delivering a one-two bluegrass punch tempered only by the subtlety of the band’s arrangements and musical aesthetic.
Fueled by equal parts tradition and innovation, MilkDrive delivers a distinctive acoustic experience that crosses genres, geographies, and generations.