San Diego isn't a typical country town. It's about 2,000 miles from the Grand Ole Opry, and while quite a few residents don their best cowboy duds to make an annual pilgrimage to the Lakeside Rodeo, country-and-western culture is generally found further east, in the more rural parts of San Diego county. And certainly, plenty of San Diegans keep their radio dial on KSON, but mainstream country in 2015 has a tendency to sound more like Jimmy Buffett or Bon Jovi than Hank Williams or Loretta Lynn.
It's all the more interesting then, that San Diego has produced quite a few excellent artists with a rootsy streak, from NPR MVPs Nickel Creek to the rowdy and rollicking El Monte Slim. That band's leader, Ian Trumbull, launched a new band last year, Ypsitucky, whose name actually nods to his Midwestern roots. Yet, the band calls San Diego home, and with new EP New Old Lady, the quartet carves another noteworthy notch in the belt for locally based roots music.
Like the best country or bluegrass music, Ypsitucky keep their songs concise. Not a single song here surpasses four minutes, and none of them need to. It takes a certain kind of band to make a seven- or eight-minute song justify its length, but it can be just as impressive to hear a band that can take a three-minute song and stuff it with enough ideas that not one single second feels wasted. Ypsitucky are only partially bluegrass, however, and there's a lot of rock 'n' roll powering their honky tonk engine, such as in the Old 97's-style shuffle of "No Reserves," the rugged and lick-heavy "What A Mess," and the distorted yet moody strut of "Bruiser."
Even more remarkable than the band's dirty guitars is Heather Vorwerck's fiddle, which can add a much-welcome touch of twang to the more punk-influenced numbers, or a streak of melancholy to the closing ballad "Pull Me Out." It's that juxtaposition of scuffed-up rock attitude and heartfelt country soul that makes New Old Lady such a strong set of tunes. As country goes, this isn't pure, but it sure is good.