PERU — Fine musicians emulate. Extraordinary musicians make it their own.
That’s just what Tom Venne (guitar) and Julie Venne Hogan (bass) and new bandmates Harry Ralph (fiddle) and Scott Hopkins (banjo) have accomplished on Beartracks’ latest release, “Makin’ New Tracks.” Check out the new band configuration and its homespun wall of sound Saturday evening at the Peru Community Church Fellowship at 13 Elm St. in Peru.
The 13-track disc includes bluegrass standards and two originals penned by the brother/sister duo.
The disc rips right off the bat with A.P. Carter’s “Foggy Mountain Top.” From that first track to the last, Venne and Hogan’s sibling harmonies are as fine as fancy maple syrup sliding between chocolate-chip waffles. Hopkins and Ralph’s instrumentation offers layers of bluegrass sound.
“Our first one with Junior (Barber) was ‘Makin’ Tracks’ (2004),” Hogan said. “We were making tracks as a bear but as music. Junior pretty much wants to retire and be out of the situation. He said we should find a couple more musicians, and he would be a guest occasionally in the summer if he was around. He’s in Florida now.”
Enter Hopkins with banjo and North Country roots.
“He’s from Altamont, near Albany area,” Hogan said. “My brother knew him. He played with him a few times way, way back in the past. He’s originally from Harkness. He’s excellent. He’s really amazing. He’s really good. We lucked out.”
Next, Ralph was recruited from across Lake Champlain.
“He’s really good, too,” Hogan said. “We’re really excited. We’ve know him a long time from seeing him on the bluegrass circuit. He was a guest on our last CD. We said wouldn’t it be great if Harry was interested in our band and wanted to play with us full time?”
Fate intervened this summer. A headliner backed out from the Danby Bluegrass Festival, and a frantic promoter called Beartracks to step in.
“At the time Junior wasn’t’ really playing,” Hogan said. “We had Scott. We needed another player. Harry lives in Danby, Vt. That’s where he’s actually from. He played with us before. Maybe, he would be able to come and do a couple of days with us?”
The impromptu band played, and the rest was history.
It’s been four years since Beartracks released “Rough Edges.”
“People had been encouraging us to do another album,” Hogan said. “It’s a new group. It’s the first album with the new group kind of like it was with Junior.”
The band chose great songs by great writers such as Doc Watson’s “Wild Bill Jones” and Lester Flatt’s “Head Over Heels,” with a killer a cappella intro by Hogan and Venne.
“‘Wild Bill Jones’ is another good bluegrass song,” Hogan said. “We have a real nice gospel song called ‘Who Will Sing For Me.’”
Other tracks include “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Worried Man Blues.” Bob Dylan’s “Wagon Wheel” gets a spirited remake.
Though Darius Rucker does a country version of the song, Venne and Hogan were inspired by the Old Crow Medicine Show.
“My 21-year-old son said, ‘You guys should know this. Everybody knows this,’” Hogan said. “This is one of the favorites when we play. Everyone sings with us.”
Track 8, “Out Behind the Barn,” is a Little Jimmy Dickens tune.
“We grew up on a farm and a barn is kind of apropos for Tom being out behind the barn,” Hogan said. “I don’t know what he did out there, and I don’t think I want to know.”
“Together Til The End” is a smoking number Hogan wrote about her hot, ex-wrestler husband.
“We put it on another of our albums,” Hogan said. “We haven’t been doing it. We have to revamp it with the fiddle and banjo. The banjo player really liked it. That one is a funny song. It’s kind of a neat song about my husband. He’s kind of shy. He was like, oh, my God. Well, too bad, husband.”
Track 10, Ralph Stanley’s “The Darkest Hour,” slows down things a spell before a barn burner, “Old Joe Clark,” highlighting Hopkins and Ralph’s virtuosity.
Then, there’s a breather with Bill Anderson and Larry Cordle’s “She Took His Breath Away,” which again is smooth with the sibling harmonies.
The disc concludes with Venne’s “Ta Ta, the brushoff.”
“It’s a story about somebody who wasn’t too pleased with him,” Hogan said. “It worked out great. He sat on his porch and decided to write a song that they both would be better off not hanging out. It’s not like a female-male thing. It’s something else.”
Beartracks has not only new instrumentation but new vocal possibilities.
“The other cool thing about this new CD, Harry sings third-part and Scott sings third-part,” Hogan said. “It’s neat to have a third-part harmony on some of the songs. About a third of the songs have three-part harmony. That is really cool.”
Fans have told Hogan and Venne they were worried about other voices melding with the siblings.
“One of my really good friends said, ‘I’m really amazed of how great everything sounds,’” Hogan said. “It just adds. It doesn’t detract at all. Scott and Harry do a really great job with the harmony vocals. It’s just a blast playing. We’re really enjoying it.”
Email Robin Caudell:email@example.comIF YOU GO WHAT: Beartracks featuring Tom Venne, Julie Venne Hogan, Harry Ralph and Scott Hopkins. WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. WHERE: Peru Community Church Fellowship, 3 Elm St., Peru. ADMISSION: $10.