Clinton Gregory had a run of Top-100 country hits in the early ’90s, but both his releases and commercial success became scarce by mid-decade. He returned last year with Too Much Ain’t Enough, his first album in more than a decade, and doubles down with this return to his bluegrass roots. Gregory started out as a fiddler, playing festivals as a child and breaking into Nashville as a session musician. His return from country crooning to tightly harmonized bluegrass is a superb spin, fueled by an obvious love of these songs and sounds. The band’s five-piece line-up reanimates a repertoire that leans almost entirely on the traditional canon. Rather than trying to stretch the genre, Gregory plugs into the formula’s original energies, making room for instrumentals, multipart harmonies and his moving lead vocals. This is no small task in a genre whose tight constrictions can leave its music sounding moribund. Gregory’s journey home plugs into a musical place that was engrained rather than learned, and the result is terrifically compelling. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Posts Tagged ‘Bluegrass’
This three piece (Ben Plasse – upright bass and banjo; Ian Craft – fiddle and banjo; Jared Green – guitar and harmonica; all three on vocals) performs its mountain bluegrass, Dixieland and late-night blues with a busker’s verve. Plasse’s bass holds down the rhythmic core on many numbers, but gives way to light drumming (courtesy of Gregg Stacki) for a few, such as the second-line shuffle, “Gone.” Brass and clarinet add a flashy touch to “Delta Queen,” but it’s the group’s unabashed, live-wire energy that draws your ear. The trio’s fifth album mixes a wide variety of originals, including fiddle tunes, family-styled harmonies and driving banjo folk, with covers of John Hartford’s “Julia Belle Swain” and Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers’ raucous “My Dog Can’t Bark.” The strings are augmented by touches of whistling, kazoo, wordless vocalizations, and a few guests – including Warren Haynes on slide guitar. These live-in-the-studio sessions capture the spontaneity of group performance and the pull of a street corner show. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
The Coal Porters are often billed as an alt.bluegrass band, and while there’s bluegrass to be heard in their harmonies and acoustic picking, their loose-jointed joy rings more of the 1960s folk revival than of modern-day bluegrass festivals. Band leader Sid Griffin has been widely quoted as wanting to make acoustic bluegrass-styled music lyrically relevant to current audiences, but the album’s themes – simple joys, forsaken relationships, biblically-inspired stories and historically rooted dramas – are more timeless than contemporary. The album’s two covers – a fiddle and harmonica take on David Bowie’s “Heroes” and a harmony-laden version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” – may be modern in sentiment, but they’re nostalgic in form. The Porters’ music is influenced both by the progressive folk of Griffin’s adopted England and the bluegrass of his native Kentucky; which makes sense, since both bluegrass and blue grass (that is, poa pratensis) have roots in Scotland, Ireland and England. The enhanced CD edition of this release includes a short video documentary about the band, providing a glimpse of Griffin as a bandleader, and the band as an ever-evolving outlet for his musical interests. [©2012 Hyperbolium]
After twenty-five years together, there’s nothing tremendously surprising about this quintet’s tenth album, but the ease with which they craft country, soul, swing and bluegrass remains terrifically engaging. Recorded in Nashville with Cowboy Jack Clement in the producer’s chair, there’s plenty of tight harmonizing, some rapid finger work and guest appearances by Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris and John Prine. The song list combines five originals with eight covers, including finely selected songs from Kris Kristofferson, Katy Moffatt & Tom Russell, Butch Hancock, Levon Helm and Bobby & Shirley Womack. The latter’s “It’s All Over Now,” originally recorded by its author as funky, New Orleans-tinged R&B, and famously covered by the Rolling Stones, is winningly arranged here with the twang and harmony of Old Crow Medicine Show. Butch Hancock’s “If You Were a Bluebird” and John Prine’s scornful “Unwed Fathers” (the latter with Harris adding her vocal to Dan Wheetman’s) are especially moving, and the original “South for a Change” offers western swing piano, guitar, steel and fiddle. Like the Band and NRBQ, Marley’s Ghost is an eclectic outfit with deep country roots; the tether gives their catalog continuity and the variety keeps their albums fresh. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]
Having hooked up with Steve Martin in 2009, this quintet gained mainstream attention that mirrored the renown they’d built in bluegrass circles over the previous decade. After backing Martin for a tour of his 2009 album, The Crow, and collaborating for last year’s Rare Bird Alert, they now return to their own work and original material. The only cover in this lot is Tim Hardin’s “Reputation,” sung at a tempo that inches towards the Association’s 1967 blues-rock cover and with harmonies that expand upon the Byrds’ 1968 version. The original tunes are all rooted in bluegrass instrumentation, but interweave elements of newgrass, country and gospel. The songs include stories of earnest courting, lost souls, tenuous relationships and natural pleasures. The band’s harmonies are strong, perhaps even a tad in your face in spots, and contrast with playing that’s tight and enthusiastic, but relaxed and delicate enough to have soul. The latter is the sort of thing that can escape players with bluegrass-quality chops, and though you get to hear the instrumentalists solo, they do so without having the band drop into the background. The album’s one instrumental, “Knob Creek,” is fittingly, an ensemble piece. The Rangers are a talented band with taste, chops and enough invention to keep their music growing. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]
The centennial anniversary of Bill Monroe’s birth has produced an outpouring of tributes (e.g., 1 2 3 4 5) from many of the musicians who’ve descended from the master’s vision. Each of the disciples has played Monroe’s tunes on stage and recorded them sporadically, but with these tributes they’ve made album length statements about their relationship to the music and the man. Tony Rice has also played and recorded Monroe’s music, but instead of recording a purpose-built tribute, his label has cherry-picked fourteen tracks from nine albums released between 1981 and 2000. This includes solo titles and sessions with David Grisman, the Tony Rice Unit, the Rice Bothers and the Bluegrass Album Band.
Fans may already have many of these tracks on original albums or previous collections (Lonesome Moonlight: Bluegrass Songs of Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Guitar Collection), but for those not steeped in the Tony Rice catalog, this is a fine anthology. Not only is Rice a preeminent bluegrass guitarist and singer, but twenty years of recordings say as much about Rice’s evolving relationship to Monroe as they do about Monroe himself. The set mixes vocal and instrumental tracks, and ranges from traditional playing to styles influenced by jazz and swing. Marian Levy’s liners fill out Rice’s view of Monroe, though the ink she spends on ponderous philosophizing would have been better spent discussing the songs, performances and settings. Chuck the liner notes and you’ll find all you need to know in the grooves. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]
San Francisco, CA-January 19, 2012-The eclectic blend of events booked for the 13th annual San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival (SFBOT) will raise up a bluegrass ruckus, create some old-time fun and guarantee some ass kickin’ music through performances, dances and workshops. The 10-day festival runs from Feb. 10-19 and comprises more than 30 shows at numerous small clubs around the Bay Area featuring some of the most talented musicians on the Americana and Roots music scene today.
Highlights of this year’s festival includes Bay Area favorites such as The Brothers Comatose, The Crooked Jades, Earl White String Band and the Kathy Kallick Quartet. Also featured are out-of-town bands; Foghorn Stringband, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, and making their SFBOT debut, The Deadly Gentlemen (epic folk and grasscore out of Boston!). The Deadly Gentlemen consists of band members: Greg Liszt on banjo (from Crooked Still), Mike Barnett (from David Grisman Quintet/toured w/Jesse McReynolds) on fiddle, Dominick Leslie on mandolin, Stash Wyslouch on guitar and Sam Grisman on upright bass (son of mandolinist David Grisman).
For the first time the festival will feature a band contest which will bring out some of the up-and-coming new Northern California Bluegrass and Old-Time bands. There is a lot of excitement about this contest and it is expected to be a regular addition to the festival.
In addition to shows, the festival aims to provide rich experiences for Bay Area residents through workshops, jam sessions, kids shows, Bluegrass and Old-Time in the Schools and the Saturday night old-time square dance (always a sell-out with over 220 attendees)! Each year the Festival showcases the best in rising acts from the West Coast and beyond, with a special spotlight on the immense amount of local talent located right here in the Bay Area.
Thanks to a generous investment from the Chris and Warren Hellman Foundation, the festival committee continues its commitment to the Bluegrass and Old-time in the Schools program. The program aims to expose elementary and high school students to the worlds of bluegrass and old-time music and continue the legacy of this important music. Schools interested in bringing performers to their Bay Area location should contact the Volunteer Coordinator.
Unlike any other festival in the country, the San Francisco Bluegrass & Old-Time Festival is a grass-roots, non-profit, volunteer-run festival dedicated to keeping the tradition of bluegrass and old-time music alive. For more information on the festival, visit http://www.sfbluegrass.org.
Confirmed 2012 Acts
Foghorn Stringband, Jeff Kazor & Lisa Berman, Anne and Pete Sibley, Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, The Brothers Comatose, Emily Bonn and The Vivants, Water Tower Bucket Boys, BrownChicken BrownCow StringBand, The Bee Eaters, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, Stairwell Sisters, Water Tower Bucket Boys, Erik Clampitt, The New Five Cents, Squirrelly Stringband, Evie Ladin, The Juncos, Houston Jones, Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band, Family Lines, Kathy Kallick Band Quartet, Taco Jam, Anne & Pete Sibley, The Trespassers, Windy Hill, Snap Jackson & the Knock On Wood Players, Kleptograss, Knuckle Knockers, The Alhambra Valley Band , Redwing, The ONs, Misisipi Mike & the Midnight Gamblers, Mad Cow String Band, Misisipi Rider, Sweetback Sisters, James Nash and the Nomads, SUPERMULE, Belle Monroe and Her Brewglass Boys, Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally, Misner & Smith, Jeanie and Chuck Poling, The Earl Brothers, Henhouse Prowlers, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, Gayle Schmitt and the Toodala Ramblers, Rita Hosking and Cousin Jack, Evie Ladin, The Blushin’ Roulettes, Earl White Stringband, Black Crown Stringband, Jordan Ruyle, Pine Box Boys, The Jugtown Pirates, Hang Jones, Dark Hollow, The Crooked Jades, The Deadly Gentlemen
(*) Indicates Marin County Show
Friday, February 10
SF Live Arts at Cyprian’s SFBOT Kickoff — Foghorn Stringband, Jeff Kazor & Lisa Berman, Anne and Pete Sibley 7:30 pm at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, 2097 Turk Street, San Francisco — $16 adv/$18 doors
Big Ass Hillbilly Show — Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, The Brothers Comatose, Emily Bonn and The Vivants 8:00 pm at Slim’s, 333 11th Street, San Francisco — $15
*Down From the Mountain to Marin — Water Tower Bucket Boys, BrownChicken BrownCow StringBand 8:00 pm at Studio 55 Marin, 1455-A East Francisco Blvd, San Rafael — $12*
The Bee Eaters, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West 8:00 pm at Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley– $20.50 adv / $22.50 doors
Saturday, February 11
Stairwell Sisters 8:00 pm at Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley — $20.50 adv / $22.50 doors
Portland Invasion — Water Tower Bucket Boys, Erik Clampitt, The New Five Cents 9:00 pm at Cafe du Nord, 2174 Market Street, San Francisco — $13 adv / $15 doors
Sunday, February 12
Family Square Dance with Squirrelly Stringband & Evie Ladin — Squirrelly Stringband, Evie Ladin 12:00 pm at North Oakland Community Charter School, 1000 42nd St., Oakland — $5 kid / $10 adult / $25 family
The Juncos 4:30 pm at Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 653 Chenery Street, San Francisco — $10 suggested donation
*Folk Grass Fusion Marin — Houston Jones, Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band, Family Lines 8:00 pm at Studio 55 Marin, 1455-A East Francisco Blvd, San Rafael — $12*
Monday, February 13
Kathy Kallick Band Quartet, Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band 8:00 pm at Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley — $20.50 adv / $22.50 doors
Taco Jam 8:00 pm at Baja Taqueria, 4070 Piedmont Ave, Oakland — Free
Tuesday, February 14
*Valentine’s Day Show in Marin — Foghorn Stringband, Anne & Pete Sibley 8:00 pm at Studio 55 Marin, 1455-A East Francisco Blvd, San Rafael — $12*
Wednesday, February 15
Hump Day Bluegrass — The Trespassers, Windy Hill, Snap Jackson & the Knock On Wood Players, BrownChicken BrownCow StringBand 8:00 pm at Cafe du Nord, 2174 Market Street, San Francisco — $13 adv / $15 doors
Kleptograss 8:00 pm at Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley — $20.50 adv / $22.50 doors
Knuckle Knockers 8:00 pm at Iron Springs Pub and Brewery, 765 Center Blvd, Fairfax — Free
Thursday, February 16
The Alhambra Valley Band , Redwing, The ONs 7:00 pm at Armando’s, 707 Marina Vista, Martinez — $15
Honky-Tonk Showdown: The Country-Bluegrass Show — Misisipi Mike & the Midnight Gamblers, Mad Cow String Band, Misisipi Rider, Sweetback Sisters 8:00 pm at Cafe du Nord, 2174 Market Street, San Francisco — $13 adv / $15 doors
Blue Ribbon Showcase — James Nash and the Nomads, SUPERMULE 9:00 pm at Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission Street San Francisco — $7 adv / $10 doors
Friday, February 17
Belle Monroe and Her Brewglass Boys 12:00 am at The Starry Plough Pub, 3101 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley — $10-$15 sliding scale
Duo Night — Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally, Misner & Smith, Jeanie and Chuck Poling 7:30 pm at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, 2097 Turk Street, San Francisco — $16 adv/$18 doors
Bluegrass Bonanza! — The Earl Brothers, Henhouse Prowlers, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West 8:00 pm at Plough & Stars, 116 Clement Street, San Francisco — $10-$15 sliding scale
Saturday, February 18
Kid’s Show — Gayle Schmitt and the Toodala Ramblers 2:00 pm at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, 2097 Turk Street, San Francisco — $9/adults; $6/kids under 12
Americana Angels — Rita Hosking and Cousin Jack, Evie Ladin, The Blushin’ Roulettes 7:30 pm at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, 2097 Turk Street, San Francisco — $16 adv/$18 doors
Old-Time Square Dance — Earl White Stringband, Black Crown Stringband, Jordan Ruyle 8:00 pm at Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market Street, San Francisco
Alt-Bluegrass Show — Pine Box Boys, The Jugtown Pirates, Hang Jones 9:00 pm at Cafe du Nord, 2174 Market Street, San Francisco — $13 adv / $15 doors
Sunday, February 19
Dark Hollow 4:30 pm at Bird & Beckett Books & Records, 653 Chenery Street, San Francisco — $10 suggested donation
Festival Closing Night — The Crooked Jades, The Deadly Gentlemen 8:00 pm at Cafe du Nord, 2174 Market Street, San Francisco — $15
This old-timey North Carolina trio (Mark Jackson on guitar, Adam Tanner on mandolin and fiddle, and Duane Anderson on stand-up bass) return with their second album of early-country inspired harmonizing. As on their first album, 2010’s Evening Shade, the singing brings to mind the Delmores and Louvins, and the song list recounts several of the brothers’ tunes alongside traditional songs and later country works. Jackson and Tanner can each sing lead, but it’s the blending of their voices that creates the brightest sparks. The solo verses of “There Stands the Glass,” for example, haven’t the searing quality of Webb Pierce’s hit, but the tight chorus harmonies provide a moving refrain. Tanner’s playing is lively on the original instrumental “North Buncombe Gallop,” Bill Monroe’s “Land of Lincoln” and Arthur Smith’s “Fiddler’s Dream,” and he adds short solos to several other tracks. It’s no surprise that the Delmore and Louvin compositions, including the former’s “Lead Me” and the latter’s “Lorene,” best fit the duo’s harmonizing. This is a homespun collection whose harmonies you could imagine the Broadcasters singing on your own back porch. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
Nearly seven years ago, amid a flurry of bluegrass tributes to pop music, mandolinist David Harvey created a surprisingly irony-free tribute to the Moody Blues. With talent that included Sam Bush, Larry Cordle, Stuart Duncan, and Alison Krauss, the high quality of the performances was a given, but the ways in which Harvey and his troupe transformed symphonic prog-rock into acoustic string band arrangements was nearly alchemical. The second volume of this project returns Harvey to the producer’s seat alongside several players from the first outing and an all-star lineup of vocalists that includes Vince Gill, Tim O’Brien, Peter Rowan, Ricky Skaggs and the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward, John Lodge, and Graeme Edge.
With most of the band’s hits covered on volume one, this second helping digs deeper into the album sides. The set’s most recognizable tune is 1968’s “Tuesday Afternoon,” sung by John Cowan, with tight harmonies from Jon Ranall and Jan Harvey, and Harvey’s mandolin-related instruments providing filigree in place of Mike Pinder’s original mellotron. There are a few more mid-charting U.S. singles (“The Story in Your Eyes,” “I Know You’re Out There,” “Say it with Love”), but some of the collection’s best numbers include the album track “Dawn is a Feeling” from Days of Future Passed, the UK hit single “Voices in the Sky” (given a charming lead vocal by Havey’s then eight-year-old daughter, Emma), and odds ‘n’ sods, such as the non-LP “Highway.” Jon Randall provides a particularly fetching vocal on the latter, supported by a choir and rolling banjo from Alison Brown.
The Moodies reprise several of their original vocals, but hearing Justin Hayward sing “It’s Cold Outside of Your Heart” (from The Present) to an acoustic backing liberates the song’s country heart from its original mid-80s production. Others, like John Lodge’s “Send Me No Wine,” find their folk style reinforced by the string band. The album closes with the only non-Moody track, an original instrumental titled “Lost Chord” on which Harvey salutes the band’s third album, In Search of the Lost Chord, and swaps gentle solos with Andy Hall (dobro), Tim May (guitar), Brian Christianson (fiddle) and Alison Brown (banjo). The song list draws from across the band’s catalog, and as on the first volume cleverly parlays prog-rock into prog-string band. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
There’s a select set of modern musicians who’ve found fortune in Nashville, yet maintained (or in the case of Patty Loveless and Dolly Parton, developed) bluegrass credentials. Jim Lauderdale hasn’t had the level of commercial success as Vince Gill or Ricky Skaggs, but his songs have been turned into hits by George Strait, Mark Chesnutt, and Patty Loveless, and he’s won critical accolades for this own work. He’s a favorite of roots listeners, a valued collaborator to a wide variety of other musician’s projects, and like Gill and Skaggs, he’s maintained a deep connection to bluegrass, including collaborations with Ralph Stanley and Donna the Buffalo, and his own Grammy-winning Bluegrass Diaries.
For the past few years, Lauderdale’s work has intertwined with the history of the Grateful Dead, including his participation in The American Beauty Project, and extensive songwriting with former Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Lauderdale’s previous collaboration with Hunter, Patchwork River, was an electric affair that blended country, rock, blues and Southern soul. Their latest set reaches back to the string band and harmony sounds of 2004’s Headed for the Hills, but with purer (but certainly not pure) bluegrass arrangements. The result reflects the specific talents of each participant: Hunter’s lyrics reaching places you don’t often visit in bluegrass, and Lauderdale’s Buck Owens-ish drawl adding country twang to everything he sings.
Hunter’s writing fits the curves of Lauderdale’s melodies with ease, drawing the listener to words and rhymes as well as the stories. You may never figure out what “Tiger and the Monkey” is about or how Hunter put himself into the person of a boxer who beat Jack Dempsey, but you’ll have a lot of fun singing along. More traditionally, the self-loathing “Don’t Give a Hang” hides its sorrow in a curmudgeon’s complaints, and the deep longing of “Love’s Voice” is emphasized by the way Launderdale drags the verses and charges into the chorus, contrasting happy memories with present day pain.
Producer Randy Kohrs assembled a terrific band of pickers and ran through the entire album in a single day. The result is professionally tight, but still very fresh, with some fine rolling leads and rhythmic vamps from banjo player Scott Vestal, lyrical mandolin picking from Mike Compton and moody draws of fiddler Tim Crouch’s bow. You can catch Lauderdale on the summer festival circuit, where he’ll no doubt be tearing things up with the hot-picked “Fields of the Lord” alongside other great tracks from this latest album and highlights of his extensive catalog. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]