A lot has changed for Michael Ford Jr. and Apache Relay over the past year, beginning with the release of their debut LP 1988. In the time since, the group has ditched the first half of their name in favor of The Apache Relay and are already hard at work on a follow-up to their fairly impressive debut.
1988 is a gentle folksy country release, with more twang than Nickel Creek but less energy than The Avett Brothers. Though Ford has cited Springsteen as one of his heaviest influences, it's not really evident here. What is clear is that the group is another in an ever-expanding crop of young progressive bluegrass artists trying to find their niche.
Ford and Apache Relay conduct themselves quite well on 1988, with mandolin, fiddle, and acoustic guitar all melding gracefully with Ford's lyrics. Most of the songs follow an easy tempo, with "Blue Eyes" picking up the pace as the record itself is winding down. "Let's Start Over" really stands out with Ford's soft pleads for a woman to return to him and start anew over a lilting melody.
Perhaps the only down side to 1988 is its length, or rather lack thereof. At only nine songs long, the album feels surprisingly short, especially since half of them hover at or below the three-minute mark. You can't help but say, "Wait, that's it?" as "Magnolia Street Heartbreaker" brings the album to a close.
The Apache Relay's new album has yet to receive a title or release date. The group plays The Pour House next Monday, May 31, with Minnesota bluegrass quintet Trampled by Turtles.