by Mitchell Brown, Reporter
Manda Shea & the Sumpthin Bro. bring the sound of the classical hill country bluegrass infused with contemporary influences. Last week during the monthly First Fridays Art Walk in downtown Warrensburg, Mo., the group performed inside The Gallery Artist Cooperative.
Soulful vocals combined with harmoniously synchronized strumming and picking resounded through the small space. Although two members of the group couldn’t make it, the show had to go on. The band scaled down to a trio, consisting of Aaron Snyder on bongo, Mark Bliss on banjo and Amanda Bliss on acoustic guitar, with the married couple sharing dual vocals.
I had seen Manda Shea & the Sumpthin Bros. at the second to last show at The Bay, on the same bill as Molly Gene One Whoaman Band and Mountain Sprout. I went for Molly Gene. I had never seen any bluegrass groups live before, yet I walked away from the show with a greater appreciation and understanding of the genre.
As Manda Shea & the Sumpthin Bros. played inside of The Gallery, the overall vibe differed from their days at The Bay, a far more intimate approach to a smaller audience.
A large portion of their set was made up of covers such Dolly Parton’s classic heartfelt ballad “Jolene” along with White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” and “All Along the Watchtower,” originally performed by Bob Dylan and made famous by Jimi Hendrix.
It’s easy to see how a classic country song could fit with bluegrass, but some might not expect more modern rock covers. It’s a surprising sight to behold when Sublime’s “Santeria” is re-worked into a bluegrass rendition. With these cross-genre covers, I witnessed songs I’d heard for years transformed, like a form of auditory alchemy. The words and chord progressions were the same, but the sonic texture was radically different.
Amanda Bliss explained that the band’s proclivity for covers was born out of a spirit of fun.
“Normally, it just starts with us jamming and going that would be cool if we did this,” she said with a laugh. Mark partially attributes the eclectic repertoire of the band to what members have heard on the radio while growing up.
He spoke to how their music combines something old with something contemporary.
“When I was kid in the car listening to my dad’s music, I hated it, and now that’s exactly what I do,” Mark Bliss said. “It could be the whole cycle of what is familiar and what you grew up on, but doing it in a new way that you are meshing or combining multiple experiences in your life to kind of create a new experience.”
Even though the bulk of Manda Shea & Sumpthin Bros.’s set consisted of covers, a few original songs are sprinkled in. In reference to themes within their originals, Amanda Bliss explained that some of them are a little angry sounding, due to being written right after going through a divorce.
Mark Bliss pointed to similar themes being present in his song writing.
“After going through a break up is a good time to write a song,” he said. He said he uses imagery and poetry in his lyrics.
“I am so not that,” Amanda Bliss said of Mark’s influences. “I am very much literal.”
Some of their original songs harken back to the earliest blues influenced rock and roll constructs.
“With ‘Wade in Whiskey’ we actually set out to write a stomp song,” she said. “We wanted to write a real good bluesy stomp grass type song.”
Recording an album is a possibility for Manda Shea & Sumpthin Bros., but touring for extended periods of time is not likely, due to work obligations and family life. For more, follow Manda Shea & the Sumpthin Bros. on Facebook here.