Photo: Jon Sievert
By Dave Cantor
“Is there such a thing as a straight jazz band?” David Grisman wonders.
If there’s an answer—and the mandolin player is correct in making such a query—he’s certainly never performed in one.
Beginning in the wilds of New Jersey, the man who’d become known simply as Dawg came of age during that time in the 1960s when players stopped cordoning off musical genres. But the difference between Bill Monroe and acts like the New Grass Revival pertain more to attitude than song selection and improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »
credit Ronald Rietman
Carving out a career spanning the nation’s coasts, autochthonous musics and several decades makes Peter Rowan a reasonably unique performer. Coming from the northeast folk scene and counting Eric Von Schmidt among his contemporaries—yeah, the same guy Bob Dylan shouts out on his first album—Rowan gigged in rock and folk groups before winding up in the company of the Bluegrass Boys and Bill Monroe in Nashville. But that was only a situation that would last a few years, and soon enough, the guitarist was immersed in the Bay Area’s developing hippie scene. Performing alongside David Grisman in Muleskinner led to an eventual alliance with Jerry Garcia in Old & In the Way, both early newgrass supergroups. And while each ensemble only issued a handful of songs, one of Rowan’s contributions—“Midnight Moonlight”—has become something of a standard, winding up on assorted albums, including work by New Riders of the Purple Sage (there’s a seven-minute version with Tony Rice on their “Quartet” recording from 2007). Serving for so many years as an adjunct to fascinating musical company, Rowan eventually struck out on his own during the late 1970s. Read the rest of this entry »
Pairing Del McCoury and Sam Bush is at once a perfect match and somewhat antithetical. The older guitarist who made a name for himself in bluegrass before Bush had even touched an instrument is completely rooted in the music’s historical resonance—Americans struggling through the depression and then working through the building of this country’s middle class. Bush, on the other hand, is included in the crop of players influenced by that early wave of performers but also sixties counterculture. Musically, the duo share an affinity for the traditional, although Bush and his mandolin have been seen cutting up stages posed as a rock star. McCoury, a guy who’s been around long enough to tour and record with a band comprised of his children, still hedges toward traditional lyrical topics, issuing a 2006 album made up of devotional tunes. Read the rest of this entry »
Listening to “We Can’t Make It Here” from the 2005 album “Childish Things” immediately makes you respect James McMurtry: his lyrics are a direct indictment of the hypocrisies of the right and also of big-box discount stores like Walmart who encourage companies to ship jobs overseas in order to reduce costs to their customers.
The son of novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, McMurtry has been part of the folk-rock scene since John Mellencamp produced his debut “Too Long in the Wasteland” back in 1989. He has since collaborated with the likes of John Prine and Dwight Yoakam (in the “supergroup” Buzzin’ Cousins) and has regularly recorded and toured with his backing band, the Heartless Bastards—though the band is no longer billed in that manner because of confusion with the Ohio-based band of the same name. Read the rest of this entry »
Whether Old Crow Medicine Show would be an engaging group of players without a blueprint laid out by the best country and string-band players isn’t an easy call. The ensemble has done everything it can to recreate the past, going so far as to pull in producer Don Was for collaboration. But issuing five discs’ worth of high-test tunes in just about a decade is no mean feat. 2008’s “Tennessee Pusher” even reads like an album’s worth of songs lazily telling a story about hawking drugs in the South, using I-65 as its main drag. Read the rest of this entry »
As the David Grisman-Jerry Garcia gospel continues to spread and constitute a musical template to emulate, scores of new bluegrass players seek to enliven the traditional music with innovations they’ve found in third-generation recordings. The Infamous Stringdusters is one of those ensembles. Extending the possibilities of the genre and extolling the technical talents of a group’s players sometimes gets in the way of the music. But far more frequently, the new crop of bluegrassers—everyone from Railroad Earth to the Yonder Mountain String Band—toss in a heap of country-styled crooning. And it doesn’t always turn out too well. Read the rest of this entry »
You remember when your stoner-friend convinced you to see Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, saying it was a bluegrass band that jammed like jazzbos? That was a bum steer. But the same guy, if he hasn’t already done so, is getting ready to tell you about Railroad Earth. The New Jersey-based band’s gained significant traction during its decade’s long career, hitting festivals in Telluride and just about anywhere else patchouli and moonshine are scents lingering in the air. Read the rest of this entry »
On the new release by the Little Willies, the New York-based country music (!) group formed by Norah Jones (piano, vocals), Richard Julian (guitar, vocals), Jim Campilongo (guitar), Lee Alexander (bass) and Dan Rieser (drums), the group tackles a selection of old classics made famous by the likes of Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and others.
Among the notable tracks is “Tommy Rockwood,” an instrumental by Campilongo that is the sole original tune on the disc. The tune is mostly guitar-oriented with a country-rock vibe, but there is a smart Norah Jones solo that proves that she does have the chops to back up the acclaim some jazz snobs say is undeserved. Also very good is the cover of Parton’s classic “Jolene,” played here more organically than the original. Read the rest of this entry »
Alt-Country, Bluegrass, Blues, Chicago Artists, Country, Country folk, Folk, Folk-rock, Jazz, Minimalism, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock, Soul, Vocal Music, World Music
The Old Town School of Folk Music has been the stage for countless performances for its half-century existence, hosting concerts that run the gamut from Americana to folk-rock and world music and in the meantime giving lesser-known artists a chance to showcase their talents to appreciative audiences that might not be reached otherwise.
To celebrate this, the school is releasing a four-disc box set of recordings made during these shows—some made on the sound board and others captured during radio broadcasts. The full package includes as many as 127 songs that had to be individually cleared with each artist or their estates. Read the rest of this entry »
Maybe the most incredible aspect of seeing bluegrass music performed live is the fact that stoners wrapped in tie-dye and crackers with rebel-flag patches sewn on their vests are there for the same thing. Each seeks a sort of instant solace from outside concerns, becoming immersed in frantic pacing of quick-step instrumental numbers and grooves from blues-based songs. Mandolin wrangler Sam Bush is the confluence of those people. He’d easily be mistaken for Phish’s guitarist, but sports a drawl gifted to him by an upbringing in Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »