Brothers Comatose: “City Painted Gold”

Brothers Comatose

“City Painted Gold”

Swamp Jam Records

The Brothers Comatose have a branding problem. The band name conjures sleepy, deep jams. Their music is anything but.

Rather, The Brothers Comatose is a romp of rock-infused bluegrass instrumentation. Their songwriting is clever and its imagery conveys a Northern California sensibility with straight-ahead musicianship. The songs, each of them, tell a story, and are richly evocative, displaying a removed sentimentality.

Northern California is a polyglot of music tastes. Country music or bluegrass is not, and has never been front and center, despite the efforts of Garcia, Grisman and others. The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, a successful San Francisco institution, founded by the late Warren Hellman, displays this mixed provenance; a visitor to festival is just as likely to see a set by St. Paul and The Broken Bones as by Gillian Welch. And Francisco is still more Quicksilver Messenger Service than Old and In The Way. The Bakersfield country vibe is hours away down the I-5.

The Brother Comatose harness this duality rather well.  Ben and Alex Morrison are the brothers in this band, sharing vocals and playing guitar and banjo. Their non-Morrison Brothers- Gio Benedetti (bass) Philip Brezina (fiddle) and Ryan Avellone (mandolin), aren’t masters of flash but the aggregate sound is sharp without twang and breezy without being simple.

The songwriting is powerful, particularly lyrically. After initially stating a case for brotherly co-existence (if not exactly love) in the CD’s opening cut, “Brothers”, the band offers up a nice series of vignettes on Northern California life and existence in the 2010’s. The title cut “City Painted Gold” honestly addresses the contrasts of present-day San Francisco, where black commuter buses heading to Silicon Valley co-exist with the homeless. “The Way The West Was Won” is a powerful take on American expansion and excess, with the resultant cultural markers. It’s not a Cinerama Production; there’s plenty of dirt and grit in those hills. There’s even a lyrical detour with “Knoxville Foxhole” which is less about East Tennessee and more about not being from there.

The Brothers Comatose bring a rock and roll flavor to their bluegrass instrumentalism, and the results paint a vivid portrait of their Northern California experience. It’s worth paying a visit with them.

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