“My head is in the clouds
But my feet are on the ground
I’m feelin’ good
My spirit’s up
And the sun is shinin’ down”
That chorus – sung by banjoist Wavy Dave Burlingame and his bandmates in Cornmeal’s rousing rendition of “Feet On the Ground,” near the start of their hotwired set – pretty much summed up the evening, as Chicago’s premier progressive bluegrass band rolled into downtown Albany for a blazing show at Jillian’s.
Led by Burlingame and guitarist-vocalist Kris Nowak, the band can fire up a righteous bluegrass breakdown whenever they like, and they did just that. And fiddler Allie Kral unleashed a fleet-fingered Celtic fiddle jig, too.
But Cornmeal’s attack clearly comes from the progressive end of the musical spectrum. Fueled by the ace rhythm section of drummer JP Nowak and bassist Chris Gangi, the band made its definitive musical statement with the sprawling “River Gap,” which started out with a bit of toe-tapping back-porch pickin’, slid into a deep, country-funk groove and then headed straight for the stratosphere, spinning almost out of control with kind of Mahavishnu Orchestra-like fury. Yeah, these guys (and gal) take their bluegrass influences way beyond anything that Bill Monroe ever had in mind.