Bluegrass Grown Down Under

The Greencards earn their keep in the States View all events this week »


by Andrew Clayman

Somewhere between Mad Max and Lethal Weapon , America forgot that Mel Gibson was supposed to have an accent. This critical lapse in reason helped open the door to a relentless and ongoing Australian infiltration of American pop culture, leading some observers to speculate that Aussies have, in fact, become better at being American than actual Americans.  

Case in point, a music critic wouldn't typically expect the mandolinist from one of Austin's fastest rising bluegrass bands to have the speaking voice of Hugh Jackman, but it just so happens that The Greencards' Kym Warner first found â“that high lonesome soundâ” while living in a land down under.

â“Music itself is a universal language,â” he explains. â“I mean, I was always aware of a lot of American music while I was back home in Australia. All of us in the band had parents who were into bluegrass and roots music, so we discovered it at a pretty early age.â”

It didn't hurt that Warner's father, Trev, also happened to be one of South Australia's few well-known bluegrass musicians. â“My dad had heard Lester Flatt play the banjo, and that was the initial thing that turned him on to bluegrass music,â” Warner says. â“He instantly bought a banjo and taught himself how to play.â”

Eventually, Trev helped teach Warner how to play, too, and the younger Warner was soon collaborating with his father and other Aussie Americana acts in the late '90s. Along the way, he was also introduced to an up-and-coming vocalist and bassist named Carol Young, and the ensuing creative force they forged together would lead them down a path paved by the likes of Gibson, Minogue and Dundeeâ"to glory in America!

â“You can find people from all over the world who can play this type of roots music really well,â” Warner says, â“but I think coming [to the United States] and being around it firsthandâ"being around players and writing with people who've been doing it for a long timeâ"it has certainly helped. There's no substitute for getting to see and play with other great artists.â”

There was certainly no shortage of other great artists in Austin, Tex., where Warner and Young landed in 2002. During an early recording session there, the duo met English fiddle player Eamon McLoughlin, and the obligatory final piece of the puzzle had revealed itself. The Greencards were born.

The band's subsequent rise up the ranks of the Austin club scene became the stuff of legends, and their 2004 debut album Movin' On made them poster children for a growing movement of smart, versatile, acoustic-country acts.

â“I just think it's an exciting form of music. Always has been,â” Warner says. â“If you go back to the '30s, '40s, and '50s, it was the popular music of the day: traditional country music. A lot has changed in 50 years, but it's sort of come around again, where there have been some bands finding commercial success, like Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, and David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. Acoustic music can be really exciting, and I've always felt that people would really like it if they get a chance to hear it. You know, if you turn on the radio, you're not always going to hear that stuff.   But luckily, it seems to be changing a little bit, and you might get to hear some things now that you wouldn't have, say, 15 or 20 years ago.â”

Embracing that trend, The Greencards moved their recording operations to Nashville for their acclaimed 2005 album, Weather and Water , as well as their brand new effort, Viridian. Impressively, the band's buzz in Tennessee is rivaling the one they earned in Texas, but when it comes to choosing between the world-renowned music scenes of Austin and Nashville, Warner prefers to take the apples and oranges approach.

â“They're definitely different,â” he says. â“Nashville is more business-minded, and obviously, an incredible recording town. There are just so many records being made here all the time, so many studios. There are some fantastic acts here in Nashville, too. But I think Austin's probably the best live music scene I've ever seen. I think if we had come to Nashville initially, we might not have been able to build that fanbase as quickly as we did down in Texas. It was a great place for us to start, because we had an option of so many different types of places to play, and we could work out our repertoire and build a following.â”

The Greencards' sound, which can move fluidly from Vince Gill-style balladry to Celtic folk traditionals, has reached its most eclectic levels yet on Viridian , a fact that isn't lost on Warner.

â“There's definitely a conscious effort to do that,â” he says. â“You know, we've been together for five years now, and from album to album, there's always going to be change, but you hope there's growth in your writing, arranging, and performing as a band. We're always trying to branch out and try things that are different for us, but that we can still do well and that still sound like The Greencards. We're not in the business of making the same record every time we make a record. We're always trying to push ourselves.â”

WHO: The Greencards and Jake Shimabukuro WHEN: Friday, June 8, 8 p.m. WHERE: Bijou Theatre HOW MUCH: $15, plus service charges


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