Allston still has a ways to go before it becomes Nashville-on-the-Charles, but word has begun to leak out about the Benders, a newgrass supergroup-in-the-making who hail from a couple of the last places on earth you’d look to for Appalachian salvation: Massachusetts and Vermont. A banjo-led quintet who boast three songwriters, they’d be naturals opening for Alison Krauss, even if most of the time their home audience consists of a hard-drinking, and harder-rocking, faithful. They’re no rock-crossover act, though: they can quote Bill Monroe scripture, and their best songs bring to the strictures of traditionalism with a folk-pop Muse.
The Benders already have two pretty good albums under their belt; Mountain Radio is their first great one. Bow Thayer, the de facto frontman, plays a mean banjo and sings with an easy, offhand intimacy and a tattered yell — the voice of a sage old wag after a few drinks — backed by spot-on close harmony. He’s a searching lyricist and a fine songwriter at both ends of the roots-folk spectrum: his "The Road Home" and "Can’t Wait To See You Again" are wearily sentimental ballads that James Taylor would kill for. And "The Great Tear of Josie and Ed" harks back to epic, two-fisted yarns like Merle Haggard & Bonnie Owens’s "The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde." Out of nowhere the band will surprise with some wrinkled artifact — like guitarist Jabe Beyer’s merciless "Seven Long Years" — that could pass for a transcription of the sharp, high-lonesome proto-country music of Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb. And when they fall in together, they have an uncanny knack, as on Beyer’s "Shovel Full of Dreams," for writing songs that sound as old as "The House of the Rising Sun" and as fresh as the dawn.
(The Benders play a CD-release party at the Dilboy VFW Hall, 371 Summer Street in Davis Square, this Friday, May 30; call 617-666-8794.)