If it ain’t broke, well, you ought not fix it. Pappy (AKA Patrick Biondo), being a bluegrass-centered musician and songwriter, understands this timeless adage. On his most recent release, Back to Basics, he reinforces the wisdom intrinsic to this clichéd phrase through five tracks that each remind that it’s difficult to go wrong if your focus is on the primal, bare bones elements that make up an art form — in this case, jammy, high-flying, swift-going bluegrass.
“Susquehanna Breakdown,” one of two instrumentals on the project, may not return to the elemental origin point of breakdowns — it hardly conjures “Foggy Mountain” or “Earl’s” or “Shenandoah” — but instead focuses on the nuance and detail of this breakneck format by letting the instruments and their handlers shine. The entire EP was cut straight to tape, without the requisite over-analyzing or rehashing that comes hand-in-hand with modern multi-tracking and overdubbing. As a result, the tune crackles with live energy, rushing ahead with its listeners on the edges of their seats, as if careening down roiling, adventurous rapids on the Susquehanna River itself.
Pappy’s jam-grass background, informed by his time with popular Scranton-based string band, Cabinet, informs his banjo playing in so many unexpected and exciting ways, bringing the free, unencumbered, exploratory tendencies of more jammy acts into what already feels familiar: The breakdown’s foundational bluegrass sensibilities, its solid picking, and Pappy’s hard-driving (though deliciously oddball) banjo.