Bluegrass is known for hair-raising instrumentals, traditional gospel songs, and harmony singing. People who play bluegrass work hard on their performance and often don’t have the time or skill set to write new songs. However, great original material can set an act apart. Fortunately, we are in a golden age of songwriting. Who is today’s John Hartford or Hazel Dickens? Who is writing music that works in a bluegrass setting and speaks to its audience? Allow me to introduce you to a few songwriters I’ve met at festivals and conferences who have great songs that bluegrass bands, and bluegrass fans, will love. — Jonathan Byrd
“When I Find All of You” – J Wagner
Every J Wagner song is a bluegrass jam waiting to happen. “When I Find All of You” is a pure and simple love song — maybe the hardest song of all to write.
“Desdemona” – Raina Rose
A campfire song if there ever was one, Desdemona brings to mind the magical realist storytelling of John Hartford, a frenetic road trip through the landscape of young love.
“Oklahoma” – Mark Erelli
Mark Erelli is a world to be discovered. This lonesome traveling song is a great fit for a voice and a fiddle and a quiet moment in between barn-burners.
“Graveyard Train” – Wild Ponies
Do I have to say anything about a song called “Graveyard Train?” A good bluegrass band would take this over the edge. Wild Ponies have a bunch of great songs that would work well in the bluegrass genre.
“Primer Gray” – Rod Picott
A song about a man’s love for his car. Turn up the tempo on this one and put it on the racetrack. Rod is another country to be explored.
“The Come Heres & The Been Heres” – Chuck Brodsky
Everybody knows this story. It’s funny and tragic and the God’s honest truth. Chuck is one of the best storytellers working today.
“Coming Down” – Anaïs Mitchell
Simple and perfect. A great song to end the night with, at a festival or around a campfire. Anaïs is a deep well of song, almost entirely unknown in the bluegrass world.
“Natural Child” – Greg Humphreys
One-chord wonder with a great bluesy melody. Jam this one into outer space.
“Bound to Love” – Jess Klein
A beautiful sentiment. This would be beautiful in an acoustic setting.
“Wakey Bakey” – Dennis McGregor
It’s hard to believe that John Hartford didn’t already write this.
“Front Porch to the Moon” – Dennis McGregor
Oh man. The only songwriter I’ve mentioned twice, it’s worth digging into Dennis’s catalog. This is a sentiment that will resonate with anyone who has lived in the country.
“Go Without Fear” – Mary Rocap
It’s hard to find a good new gospel song. Mary is a deeply spiritual writer.
Photo credit: Rodney Bursiel