The term “supergroup” is overused in every musical genre, but Mighty Poplar is one; mandolinist Andrew Marlin is part of the folk duo Waterhouse, bassist Greg Garrison hails from Leftover Salmon, guitarist Chris Eldridge and banjoist Noam Pikelny hail from Punch Brothers, and fiddler Alex Hargreaves backs Billy Strings.
Unlike their regular bands, Poplar specializes in old-school bluegrass – no amplified or rhythmic additions or “newgrass” leaning to traditional fare. Marlin, Pikelny, and Eldridge tear their way through the ancient string-band favorite “Grey Eagle” and offer a relaxed rendition of “A Distant Land to Roam.” They’re equally at ease with the contemporary ballad “Up on the Divide,” with its robust traditional feel.
Eldridge offers a sensitive intro to Leonard Cohen’s “Story of Isaac,” Pikelny picking subtly beneath the vocal. The instrumental of “Kicking Up the Devil on a Holiday”/“Dr. Hecock’s Jig” features Hargreaves, Marlin, Eldridge, and Pikelny, as does the blazing “Little Joe.” On both, they tear it up while avoiding the hot-lick excesses of some bluegrass acts. It’s a reminder that the classic sounds of Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers are as relevant today as decades ago.
This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.