The Greencards have titled their third album Viridian, probably in reference to their name, which is inspired by their immigrant status (Carol Young and Kym Warner were born in Australia, Eamon McLoughlin hails from the U.K., and these days they all call Austin, TX home). But the name also fits as a reference to the simple beauty of the group's natural sound -- much of Viridian sounds so organic and spontaneous that one imagines it could have grown rather than been recorded. Not that this music feels haphazard or ruled by chance; Young's vocals, which sound rich and downy sweet at once, dovetail so beautifully with McLoughlin's fiddle and Warner's mandolin and bouzouki that their musical communication seems nearly telepathic, but they achieve this without a moment sounding forced, and on Viridian, the open space around the music communicates as eloquently as what the musicians actually play. (Their approach is aided tremendously by Doug Lancio's sympathetic production and Jason Lehning's crisp engineering.) The Greencards use their very impressive chops to serve the songs rather than forcing the music to become a platform for their egos, and between the tunes they wrote themselves and the contributions from Kim Richey and Jedd Hughes, this disc quietly but impressively communicates a whole world of emotions and moods through the trio's precise arrangements and lovely harmonies. (And though Young takes on the majority of the lead vocals here, both Warner and McLoughlin are quite impressive when they step up to the mic.) Few acts in bluegrass or acoustic country are making music as soul satisfying as the Greencards, and Viridian captures them in lovely, affecting form.
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You might think you're hearing Nickel Creek's first album all over again, but in short order the Greencards take their folksy, rustic music and Carol Young's soft, seductive vocals into their own territory. "Waiting On the Night" evolves from a laid-back, sultry blues (with Young cooing lustily like the young Maria Muldaur) to a pop howl, with a string quartet lending an "Eleanor Rigby"-ish foreboding to the mix. From Young's tender, poignant opening lines, "River of Sand" opens up into Nickel Creek-style harmonies and shifting textures, with humming violins and a delicately plucked mandolin dominating the soundscape. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the modal instrumental meditation "Su Prabhat," barely more than two minutes of yearning beauty as voiced by the violin and mandolin primarily, sounds like it might have come from the fertile pan-cultural mind of Chris Thile. Tradition factors heavily into the Greencards' M.O., though, with the spirited bluegrass breakdown of "Lonesome Side of Town," keyed by some jaw-dropping solos on guitar and mandolin and tight, mountain-style vocal harmonies. Kim Richey and Mike Henderson co-wrote one of Viridian's signal moments, "I Don't Want to Lose You," a mournful folk lament describing the final, wrenching stages of a dying love affair. This is rich, quintessential Greencards terrain, with Young singing in an ethereal, silky whisper and the acoustic instruments shaping delicate bursts of phrases that herald a looming sadness. Not a great leap forward but rather a solid, emotionally rich document that builds on what's come before it, Viridian's pleasures are subtle and nuanced, in the manner of unprepossessing albums that simply endure over time.