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In circles of critics, that know music, Fox and Hounds is labeled as the most original bluegrass band in central Ohio. 

Bluegrass chops on full display

You know, I’m a big-time rock critic used to being ringside at the big shows, interviewing the big stars, riding in the big limousines and fending off the big-city groupies who throw themselves at my feet and byline. My week can be long and hectic.


So it’s always nice to take a break from the prime-time madness and indulge in a mellow Saturday night once in a while. Which I did last weekend, going down to Dick’s Den to enjoy some homegrown down-home sounds courtesy of Fox ’n’ Hounds, one of several promising bluegrass-y bands playing around town.


This particularly capable outfit is led by Steven Fox, whom most of you know as the mutton-chopped stand-up bassist for the Spikedrivers, that most lively of country-folk-’cana-esque moonshiners. With his Hounds, we see a whole ’nother side of the man: mandolin!


To go from one of the biggest stringed instruments to just about the littlest, one would think, would take a bit of getting used to. But ol’ Foxy proved his moxy and really slammed out some pinging solos. With a voice that’s all yowl all the time, Fox sure seems to have the mythical Squirrel Puke Holler high-and-lonesome tone down but good.


Nicely complementing him was his rhythm guitarist, Aaron Snyder, vocally a clear mountain stream without a hint of mineral pollution. His singing is a strength Fox ’n’ Hounds would be wise to develop, my suggestion being that Fox sing the murder ballads and Snyder the cheatin’ and a-hurtin’ songs.


The third very pleasant surprise of the night was guitarist Adam Schlenker’s super-picker leads on breaks between, beneath and around Fox and Snyder’s verses. He can practically out-Tony Tony Rice, the king of straight-ahead, jazz-inflected bluegrass lead guitar.


Rounding out the Hounds were shy violinist Ammon Bowen and Chris Stevens, a dependable thumper on stand-up bass who was making his debut with the band.


Fox ’n’ Hounds came storming out of the gate Saturday night with a fat handful of fast numbers. Music without drums, that’s bluegrass. But weak it wasn’t.


The furies flew out of Fox’s mandolin during his solos, from the git-go. When Schlenker’s turn came, he was knockin’ the crows out of the sky. I’ve seen a few of the other bluegrass bands in town, and Schlenker may the best local picker, his leads sidewinding up the frets until scoring a direct hit on a certain note up high and then returning back down to the root note.


While Stevens supplied the steady pulse, it was Fox himself driving the band, his mandolin the little engine that could. When things eased up—like for a pair of John Hartford songs, “Holding” and “Wrong Road”—the five proved their balladic legs were quite capable of supporting the slower tunes for a welcome change of pace.


Then they did an instrumental that stuck in my head like toilet paper on a shoe: “Canis Lupus,” which is Latin for “The Wolf.” It was written by an old cohort of Fox’s some time ago. If memory serves, it is minor chord upon minor chord, with an after burn of brooding the likes of which I don’t need in my life right now.


But there it was, the song that wouldn’t go away. “The Wolf,” you bastard, your melody’s got me hamstrung. You’ve ruined my life. Now I must hear it again.


The lads then shifted back into breakneck, making for the state line with the Dukes of Hazzard following ’em. Fox started singing, then led his squadron of high-flyin’ bluegrass boys for an extended round of soloing involving himself, Schlenker and Bowen.


Mellow? What am I talking about? This shit was exciting! Bill Monroe, disliker of all things modern, was probably up in heaven nodding his head approvingly as these urban upstarts cranked up the old jalopy called bluegrass.


Look out, Yonder Mountain, Old Crow and David Grisman. There’s a new boy in town with chops to match the ones growing out of his face ZZ Top-style—the band’s only gimmick, if you can call it that, and I don’t. 

Unfazed by the post-turkey tryptophan coma or the prospect of an early Black Friday frenzy? Steven Fox has a Thanksgiving-night proposition.

"After our fair share of feasting and gravy guzzling, we are going to give all you folks who need a little break from the family something to be thankful for," the Fox N Hounds frontman said.

"Come on over and burn off some of those excess carbs."

Fox, who touts the range of styles and material of the bluegrass quartet, recently had more to say about the group:

Q How did the band form?

A During a snowstorm in 2007, Adam and I threw a band together for a pickup gig at Dick's Den. It sounded pretty good for never really playing together. We had such a good time, we decided we should make it a regular occurrence.

Q How would you describe your music?

A Instrument-driven bluegrass with a focus on songcraft, with a bit of humor mixed in.

Q Why play bluegrass?

A Bluegrass was born from innovation. Bill Monroe and the players around him were country-music musicians who were influenced and inspired by other forms of music. You can hear the influence of the swing era in early bluegrass.

Q What do you do to modernize the genre?

A First, we choose fun covers. We play it all, from '80s hits ( Girls Just Want To Have Fun) to the '50s ( Yakety Yak), with our high-speed bluegrass abandon.

We also play bluegrass standards, songs from modern songwriters and originals - wholesome and unholy.

Q What's the best quote you've heard about the band?

A "You guys are the only thing I remember about my 21st birthday!" - an Athens, Ohio, fan

Q Why should someone see a Fox N Hounds concert?

A We have a song for everyone. If you love the traditional mandolin chop, rock 'n' roll with an Appalachian twist or . . . something new, you'll find it.

- Kevin Joy

Columbus Dispatch Nov. 25 2011