The Badly Bent
Music Review by Paul Paradis
The Badly Bent have been picking their brand of “high energy traditional bluegrass” for Four Corners audiences for the past six years and have quickly established themselves as one of the most entertaining acts in the area.
With the release of the group’s first self-titled album, The Badly Bent has continued to enjoy success as one of the region’s hottest bands and as an emerging star on the national bluegrass circuit. This Durango, Colo.-based band recently took first place in the Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition held June 16-19.
The Badly Bent are Bill Adams (resonator guitar or “dobro”), Robb Brophy (mandolin, vocals), Patrick Dressen (guitar, bouzouki, vocals), Mark Epstein (banjo, vocals) and Jeff Hibshman (bass). Their accomplishments as individual musicians are impressive, and many of the bands members are multi-instrumentalists.
Many of the band members have devoted much of their lives performing the music that they love. Adams is a serious student of music who learned to play the guitar in the early 70s, and then took up the resonator in the early 90s. Brophy holds a degree in Bluegrass Music from South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. Dressen won the Colorado Flatpicking Guitar Championship in 1991 and the Rocky Mountain Mandolin Championship in 1994. Epstein, a 30-year veteran of bluegrass and acoustic music, recently had one of his songwriting efforts picked up by a national publishing house. Hibshman, one of the original members of The Badly Bent, is a renowned guitar and bass player and has played in many award-winning bands. When listening to them perform on-stage, their musicianship is undeniable, and together they bring audiences a solid, tightly played sound.
The Badly Bent’s new release, The Badly Bent, is a wonderful mix of traditional and original numbers. Each song on this album carries personal significance for members of the band. “The traditional songs were songs that we’ve individually heard over the years and have liked so much that they stuck with us,” says Epstein. The song “Coal Tattoo” is a haunting song of a coal miner who has left his home. Its lyrics cry to the transient in all of us and things we’ve all had to walk away from. “Traveling down that cold county road, just listen to my rubber tires whine. Goodbye to Buckeye and white sycamore, I’m leaving you behind.” It’s a traveling song that resonates deep when you‚re feeling like life could be going just a little bit better.
The album’s original works showcase the song-writing talent of Epstein. The number “Where’s That Cold Wind Come From?” is a haunting song that has an ironic origin. “It was a beautiful day, temps in the 80’s. The Badly Bent was getting ready to play a wedding reception,” says Epstein. “I was standing with our former fiddle player in the sunshine when this cool breeze came down the canyon. She said it made the hair stand up on the back of her neck and she said, “Where’s that cold wind come from?” It hit me that that would make a great title for a song about a relationship going bad.” Epstein’s lyrics poetically reflect these sentiments: “Back of my neck feels a breeze coming in, it makes me wonder cause I don’t feel the wind. It might be the feeling of losing someone, I just can’t imagine where that cold wind comes from.”
Another original on the album, “More Dollars Than Sense,” has a fast-moving pace that will surely bring a smile to anybody’s face. This song came together as a group effort; the title came from Brophy, the basic melody from Adams and the words from Epstein. “We were sitting around talking one night after practice, talking about someone we knew when Robb made a comment like, “he has more money then sense,” says Epstein. “I turned it around a bit and wrote about a friend of mine who really did have more money than sense.” This number also showcases the fine instrumentation that they bring to their music.
The Badly Bent emanates a deep love for stringed music that is undeniable while listening to them. Their combined years of experience playing the strings their way has resulted in what can be defined as truly heartfelt music. In the coming months, they can be found picking and plucking at The Fort Lewis Summer Bluegrass Series in Durango, Colo., on Aug. 4 and at the Red Rock Bluegrass Festival in St George, Utah, on Sept. 24-25. If you haven‚t heard these guys it’s time to straighten up and listen to The Badly Bent.
Paul Paradis follows the Four Corners music scene from Durango, Colo., where he works as field supervisor for Southwest Youth Corps.