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Evolution is an overused term in the music game, and doubly so in the corners of it frequented by groups like Hot Buttered Rum, those drawn to marry bluegrass and Americana with rock, swing and beyond in whatever proportion serves the song at hand. Evolving is what these musical matchmakers have always done, though, and it’s what they continue to do with their newest three-part album, The Kite & the Key.

Each panel of their tryptic paints a different way of making American music that Hot Buttered Rum loves, and each was shaded with the help of a different producer. Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone took the first crack at the band’s extensive song list (guitarist Nat Keefe and multi-instrumentalist Erik Yates always have an ample backlog). He chose the six most introspective cuts, curating a songwriter’s showcase that also made plenty of room for Bryan Horne (bass) and Zebulon Bowles (fiddle) to help bring the songs to life. Legendary dobroist Sally van Meter came in two months later to produce a sextet of songs from the Ralph Stanley canon. “Playing Stanley-style bluegrass off the record is incredibly tough, hero’s work, really, and Sally’s a hard hero to please,” Yates quipped. “After she kicked our bluegrass butts, though, she went away smiling. I’ll always be proud of that.” In true HBR fashion, the band then took a left turn and dove into a third EP with keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, who left his Wurlitzer plugged in throughout the tracking for on-the-fly arrangement and improvisatory ideas. “It made perfect sense that way,” Bowles reflected, “since he thinks so well through his instrument. Why talk about an idea when you can play it?” Drummer & mandolinist James Stafford, the band’s newest member, was thrown into the fire as a guest artist on the session and has been a rooted, driving presence in the band ever since.

With new music in their bellies and more simmering on the stove, the quintet’s ready to keep doing what it’s always done: entertain audiences through their headphones, their car stereos, their laptop speakers and, most importantly, at their local music venues. HBR’s 16 years of touring have given the band the chance to play for all kinds of audiences, everywhere from the divey-est bars to the most prestigious pop, folk, and bluegrass stages in the country: Telluride, Newport, Bonnaroo, Strawberry, Hardly Strictly, Kate Wolf, Horning’s Hideout, String Summit, Grey Fox, Merlefest, High Sierra, and many more. Seasoned veteran Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), acoustic guru Mike Marshall, and left-coast rocker Tim Bluhm (Mother Hips) have all produced studio albums for the group. Every show played and every record made has pushed HBR towards the next step in its evolution, and towards a sound that’s tough to describe and easy to love. What began as the pipe dream of high school and college buddies, cooked up around campfires in the High Sierra, has found its way into the ears and hearts of fans across the country. What’s next for these five? There’s only one way to find out – catch ’em at the next show. Like the Stanley Brothers used to sing, back when bluegrass music was too new to be named, “you know I’d like to see you, at my door you’re welcome in.” Come on in and make yourself at home.