FOR DAVID GRISMAN, THE GRASS IS ALWAYS BLUER
“I've had a musical love affair with bluegrass music for over 50 years now,” David Grisman told me during a recent interview. “I also have my own concept of what bluegrass music is, and perhaps what people now refer to as that particular genre may be completely different than my definition, which would be the music created by Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Chubby Wise and other "first generation" musicians — the Stanley Brothers, Reno & Smiley, Jim & Jesse, Jimmy Martin and the Osborne Brothers.”
Nevertheless, the legendary mandolin player has some reservations about how the genre seems to have strayed from its seminal style. “Recordings, live performances, and the ever evolving exposure process (from television to the internet) has certainly attracted more listeners, but what are they really listening to? Not ‘Molly and Tenbrooks’ by Bill Monroe or ‘Little Glass of Wine’ by the Stanley Brothers or ‘Someday We'll Meet Again Sweetheart’ by Flatt & Scruggs or countless other bluegrass masterpieces from the ‘golden era’ I'm afraid.”
Not surprisingly, Grisman is a purist when it comes to his particular passion. “Bluegrass is a perfect blend of many influences and innovations, which should be extremely appealing to any music lover,” he suggests. “Instrumentally you have the amazing 5-string banjo style of Earl Scruggs, combined with several unique approaches to mandolin playing developed by Bill Monroe, Bobby Osborne and Jesse McReynolds, plus the smooth bluesy fiddling of Chubby Wise and Vassar Clements, as well as numerous approaches to vocal harmonies which evolved from the Carter Family, the Monroe Brothers and others to the classic bluegrass artists of the first, second and even third generation. Then you have the songs themselves, many of which are grounded in the traditional folk music of England, Ireland and Scotland. Add a bit of swing, blues and country and you have a pretty heady musical brew.”
Grisman’s touting a forthcoming release recording from the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience), entitled Muddy Roads - Old-time Music of Clarence Ashley & Doc Watson, as well as a deluxe remastered edition of Doc & Dawg with many alternate previously-unissued tracks and a live recording from his archives, Doc & Dawg - Live in Watsonville (California.) In October, Grisman will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Old & in the Way with the complete Boarding House Tapes, from which all three of the band’s original releases were extracted. These albums and others can be found at AcousticOasis.com.
HAVE A BREW WITH VINCE HERMANN
The Breckenridge Brewery has landed a big fish. The company is partnering with fellow Coloradans Leftover Salmon to deliver new music to the band’s fans exclusively through Breckenridge beers. Leftover Salmon is debuting four original songs, which are then pre-released exclusively through Breckenridge Brewery’s Sampler Packs. The songs’ download codes will be contained in four collector’s item Artist Series coasters that are packaged within each pack.
“Finding a way to sell records is getting harder and harder to do,” the band’s Vince Hermann explains. “You have to be creative now that there’s practically no label money being tossed around. This is a creative way to market music in a world that isn't buying much. But we also keep playing because we love it, and it's become who we are and what we do. None of us play bluegrass to make a killing; we do it because it's in us. In the end, that is what will make this music stay around for a long time.”
DISCS FOR DISCOVERY
• Various artists
Let Us In Americana/The Music of Paul McCartney (Reviver Records)
Although it’s not the first salute Nashville’s made to the McCartneys – 2011’s Let Us In Nashville more or less set a precedent in terms of charity tributes -- but Let Us In Americana does up the ante in terms of star power. With Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale and Teddy Thompson among those on board, this set’s bound to attract attention, a good thing too because the proceeds go to the Women and Cancer Fund. What’s especially surprising, and gratifying as well, is the way Macca’s songs sync so easily with these country trappings. The down home designs Lauderdale applies to “I’m Looking Through You,” Earle and wife Allison Moorer’s sweet serenade on “I will” and Sam Bush’s typically rollicking “I’ve Just Seen a Face” all testify to the songs’ crossover appeal. In fact, most of the tracks sound like they were written with Americana in mind. While Buddy Miller’s read of “Yellow Submarine” may give some a double take, the only real misstep occurs with Ollabelle’s choppy “Get Back.” It’s somewhat ironic, because in terms of getting back, these songs allow a return to the roots.
• Kruger Brothers
Remembering Doc Watson (Double Time Music)
The Krugers’ heartfelt tribute to their friend and mentor Doc Watson offers a remarkable display of remembrance and affection in the form of music that will forever be associated with one of America’s greatest musicians. Doc befriended the brothers when they first arrived on these shores from their European homeland, and up until his death last year, they took the role of both protégés and collaborators. The song selection provides a study in seminal bluegrass standards, with traditional tunes like “Little Sadie,” “Corina, Corina,” “Tom Dooley” and “John Henry” rendered with the affection and meticulous care that Doc exercised on his own. A live read of “Shady Grove,” recorded with the master himself at Merlefest in 2002, is especially touching, revealing a bond that will always remain unbroken.
• Willie Sugarcapps
Willie Sugarcapps (The Royal Potato Family)
A super group of sorts, Willie Sugarcaps makes a surprise entry into the category of this year’s most promising ensembles. A combination of various individuals (Will Kimbrough, Bryson Capps and Corky Hughes) – and at least one duo (Sugarcane Jane) – the band melds effortlessly, churning out a series of homespun tunes that effectively span the heartland. The entreating title track sets the tone with bluegrass balladry, while the weathered tale of “Mr. Lee,” the down home designs of “Mud Bottom” and the zydeco flavor of “Poison” stir the sentiments and keep the interest brewing. The group’s low key, unpretentious airs lend a sense of back porch familiarity and ensure the group’s instant appeal. While the members will hopefully maintain their individual trajectories, let’s also hope that we Willie Sugarcaps will return as well.
• Head for the Hills
Blue Ruin (self-released)
Head for the Hills is one of those up and coming bands capable of injecting new life into a traditional stance, thanks to a dutiful delivery replete with banjos, fiddles, mandolin and sheer exuberance. The joy they imbue is evident from the outset, especially on songs like “Take Me Back,” “Lover’s Scorn” and “Priscilla the Cinchiilla,” a trio of tracks that serve to amplify their enthusiasm. Their’s is a playful approach that suggests for all their devotion to form, they’re not stifled by sentiment, posture or pretense. Count on Head for the Hills to provide fun and finesse in equal measure.
And then there’s this…
“Traditional Bluegrass is appealing because it’s organic. You can grab an instrument and play without the necessity of amps and electricity. Some people love the hot picking and some the harmony singing. If you know the traditional songs you can jump in a jam with people you've never met and play together instantly. Bluegrass is its own language.” – Charles Humphrey, Steep Canyon Rangers