Tag Archives: Bluegrass

Enthralling Songs of the Mountains

Balsam Range – Mountain Voodoo (Mountain Home, 2016)

Mountain Voodoo was released on November of 2016 and it’s a superb contemporary bluegrass album by western North Carolina band Balsam Range. This talented group of musicians is one of the rising stars in the bluegrass scene with its captivating mix of harmony vocals and masterful instrumental virtuosity.

Mountain Voodoo features dazzling instrumentals and deep-rooted ballads where contemporary bluegrass, classic country and blues are skillfully intertwined.

The lineup includes Buddy Melton on fiddle, lead and tenor vocals; Darren Nicholson on mandolin, octave mandolin, lead vocals, baritone and low tenor vocals; Dr. Marc Pruett on banjo; Tim Surrett on bass, dobro, baritone and lead vocals; and Caleb Smith on guitar, lead and baritone vocals.

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Sake of the Sound

Front Country – Sake of the Sound

Front Country – Sake of the Sound (Front Country, 2014)

Front Country is an excellent San Francisco Americana band inspired by bluegrass, old time, blues, and classic country music. The band’s sounds is characterized by the passionate voice of Melody Walker, strong vocal harmonies, fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitars. Although the band is rooted in tradition, they incorporate unexpected progressive elements, especially with the fiddle that make their music unique and more attractive.

The lineup includes Adam Roszkiewicz on mandolin; Jacob Groopman on guitar, vocals; Melody Walker on vocals, guitar; Jordan Klein on banjo, vocals; Leif Karlstrom on violin; Zach Sharpe on bass.

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Artist Profiles: Lee Sexton

Lee Sexton

Lee Sexton is one of the most respected and revered traditional musicians in eastern Kentucky. A master of traditional banjo styles both two-finger picking and “drop-thumb” (clawhammer) Sexton has lived his whole life near his birthplace in Letcher County Kentucky.

Born in 1927 he grew up in an intensely musical family and community He worked for a week clearing a field to earn the dollar that bought him his first banjo a homemade wooden fretless model with a groundhog skin head that he acquired when he was eight years old With instruction from his father and uncles (one of whom was the legendary banjo player Morgan Sexton Sexton soon mastered the instrument and the fiddle as well He is also a powerful singer whose repertoire includes such classics as “Cumberland Gap” and “Little Birdie.” As a young man he would work all week in the mines and then play music all weekend at house parties, bean stringings and corn shuckings.

In his sixty-five year musical career Lee has been an essential figure in the musical life of his community and one of the foremost tradition bearers of Kentucky’s mountain music heritage He has played from front porches and community dances to radio stations national festivals and college campuses.

He is a regular at Appalshop’s annual Seedtime on the Cumberland festival and at Hindman Settlement School’s Family Folk Week. He was featured in Appalshop’s music video, Whoa Mule, shown on Country Music Television and The Nashville Network and garnered a brief scene in the 198 film Coal Miner’s Daughter based on the life of Loretta Lynn where he appears playing at a square dance. In 1999 he was presented with the Kentucky Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

Discography:

Whoa Mule

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Bluegrass Guitar and Mandolin Wizardry

Billy Strings & Don Julin – Fiddle Tune X

Billy Strings & Don Julin – Fiddle Tune X (Don Julin & William Apostol, 2014)

Fiddle Tune X features recreations of traditional bluegrass songs and tunes along with classics by Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Merle Travis and other songwriters

Billy Strings is a young virtuoso guitarist who has attracted a lot of attention. He’s joined by veteran mandolin maestro Don Julin.

 

 

Fiddle Tune X showcases the talent of two remarkable bluegrass instrumentalists.

 

 

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Artist Profiles: John Cowan

John Cowan

Bassist and vocalist John Cowan was born on August 24, 1952 in Minerva, Ohio. He has been performing for over 30 years and is known by many as The Voice of Newgrass. As a member of New Grass Revival he helped create a sound which brought a new audience to the bluegrass music and was arguably as important in shaping the direction of modern bluegrass as Flatt and Scruggs was to the genre in the 196s.

After New Grass Revival disbanded in 1990 Cowan went on to record a series of critically acclaimed solo albums and to lend his unique vocals as a session musician to a lengthy discography including albums by Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, Steve Earle, Janis Ian, Delbert McClinton, Kenny Rogers and Poco. He was also the bass player for The Doobie Brothers from 1993 to 1995.

His album Always Take Me Back (released by Sugar Hill Records) features his versatile musicianship and his excellent band through an array blues, bluegrass, funk, rock and Celtic-flavored selections.

Currently Cowan divides his time on the road between solo tours with the John Cowan Band and as a touring member of the Doobie Brothers with whom he has been performing regularly since 2010.

Discography:

Soul’d Out (Sugar Hill, 1998)

John Cowan (Sugar Hill Records 2000)

Always Take Me Back (Sugar Hill Records)

New Tattoo (Pinecastle 2006)

Live At Telluride 8,745ft (Koch Records 2009)

The Massenburg Sessions (Koch Records 2010)

Sixty (Compass, 2014)

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Artist Profiles: Jerry Douglas

Jerry Douglas

In addition to being widely acknowledged as the United States’ finest dobro players Jerry Douglas is a freewheeling recording artist whose output draws upon a bottomless well of musical inspiration incorporating elements of bluegrass, country, rock, jazz, blues, and Celtic into his distinctive musical vision.

The Ohio-born Douglas was seduced by music early in life. At the age of eight he was taken by his father-a steelworker who played bluegrass in his spare time-to a Flatt and Scruggs concert where he was immediately attracted to the sound of the dobro. He began playing the instrument in earnest soon after. “I just liked the sound it made, he recalls.,It can be real lonesome or it can be really brash and percussive. It’s such a vocal instrument; you can do so many things on it because of the sustain, and because there’s all these different voices you can get out of it.”

After several years of playing with his dad’s group the West Virginia Travelers the 17-year-old Douglas joined the pioneering newgrass band the Country Gentlemen in 1973. The following year he became a member of the seminal J.D. Crowe and the New South which also included future stars Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice. In 1976 Douglas and Skaggs co-founded the now-legendary bluegrass combo Boone Creek. In 1979 Douglas launched his solo career with his LP Fluxology and became a full-time member of the beloved family group the Whites. He remained with the Whites until 1985 but still found time to play on such now-classic albums as Emmylou Harris’ Roses in the Snow and Ricky Skaggs’ Don’t Get Above Your Raising.

By the time he left the Whites Douglas had become Nashville’s busiest session dobro player while continuing his solo career with such albums as 1982’s Fluxedo (for which he won his first Grammy for Best Country Instrumental) Under the Wire (1986) Changing Channels (1987) Everything Is Going To Work Out Fine (1987) Plant Early (1989) and Slide Rule (1992). In the late ‘8s he formed the seminal acoustic supergroup Strength in Numbers with Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor; the quintet debuted with 1989’s The Telluride Sessions.

Jerry Douglas

Jerry Douglas formed a trio with Russ Barenberg and Edgar Meyer to record the 1993 album Skip Hop and Wobble. The next year Douglas co-produced and performed on the all-star multi-artist project Great Dobro Sessions for which he won a second Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. In 1996 Douglas joined Edgar Meyer and Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt for the genre-bending experiment Bourbon and Rosewater and collaborated with singer-songwriter Peter Rowan on the album Yonder. Douglas released his next solo effort Restless on the Farm in 1998.

It was around that time that Douglas chose to abandon his lucrative session career which had ceased to offer new musical challenges. “I did so many sessions for so long and it wasn’t really doing anything for me anymore,” he explains. “I was making a fine living playing on people’s records but the music changed and I didn’t really like where mainstream country was going. It started to really bother me so I had to stop.”

At around the same time Alison Krauss asked Douglas to fill in on a Union Station tour. The shows went so well that Krauss offered him a permanent slot in the group. “I really love playing with Alison; it’s a creative atmosphere and the music is coming from all of us so it’s a dream gig.” Since then he’s managed to balance his Union Station work with his solo career and a variety of collaborative efforts. One such project was the surprise smash O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack for which Douglas helped to recruit musicians and played on three songs including the Soggy Bottom Boys’ “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” He also made a brief onscreen appearance in the film.

In 2002 Douglas released the solo album Lookout for Hope and won three Grammy Awards for his work with Union Station and Earl Scruggs as well as receiving five Grammy Award Acknowledgements for the O Brother soundtrack and its live sequel Down from the Mountain. He was also named Musician of the Year by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association’s Musician of the Year as well as the Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year.

Summer 23 found Douglas on stage with Norah Jones and her band for sets at the Montreal Jazz Festival and at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. That fall he was honored with his second Instrumentalist of the Year title from the Americana Music Association. In 2004 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Douglas a National Heritage Fellowship.

When New York hosted Country Music’s Biggest Night in November 2005 the Country Music Association honored Jerry Douglas with his second Musician of the Year Award. Douglas also performed with Alison Krauss + Union Station during the Awards Ceremony from Madison Square Garden which was broadcast worldwide to over 36 million viewers.

Grammy Week 2006 was a busy one for Douglas. With his fellow NARAS Board Members Douglas honored his friend James Taylor MusiCares’ 2006 Person of the Year. Douglas teamed with Alison Krauss to deliver Carolina In My Mind during the musical tribute and at the honoree’s request joined Taylor and band to finish out the show. Douglas also was on the Who’s Who list of guitar slingers invited to perform at a concert paying homage to legendary guitar player Les Paul at the Gibson Amphitheatre.

Capping off the week was the Grammy Awards Show with Jerry Douglas receiving three Grammys for his work with Alison Krauss + Union Station on Lonely Runs Both Ways. The band picked up the prestigious Best Country Album Award as well as winning Grammys for Best Country Instrumental Performance for the Douglas composition Unionhouse Branch and Best Country Vocal Performance Duo or Group for Restless.

In addition to his solo releases Douglas’ stellar fretwork has graced over 1 albums encompassing a dizzying range of musical styles. As a sideman he’s recorded with artists as diverse as Garth Brooks, Ray Charles, Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Paul Simon, Ricky Skaggs, James Taylor, Randy Travis and Trisha Yearwood as well as performing on the landmark O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. As a producer he’s overseen albums by such esteemed acts as the Del McCoury Band, Maura O’Connell, Jesse Winchester and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. He’s been part of such notable groups as the Whites J.D. Crowe and the New South the Country Gentlemen and Strength in Numbers. Since 1998 he’s been a key member of Alison Krauss and Union Station touring extensively and playing on a series of platinum albums.

The Best Kept Secret Douglas’ eleventh solo album and his first for the Koch label features a set of original instrumentals that seamlessly merge Douglas’ far-flung influences. The material ranges from the jazzy bluegrass workout “Who’s Your Uncle?” to the funky country-rocker,She Makes Me Want To Sing” to the jazz-inflected title song to the haunting reflective,Sir Aly B.” The latter track references legendary Celtic fiddler Aly Bain with whom Douglas collaborated on the all-star roots-music summit Transatlantic Sessions series for British TV. In addition to Douglas’ own compositions the album features a haunting reading of the vintage Weather Report number A Remark You Made, underlining Douglas’ instinctive affinity for jazz.

“This record ended up being a surprise to me, states Douglas,and it wasn’t until I was halfway through it that I realized it was gonna be different. For a minute I worried about what the bluegrass people would think and what the country people would think but I know better than to think too much about that stuff.”

Along with the current lineup of Douglas’ band the Brickbats-guitarist Keith Sewell bassist Derek Jones drummer Shannon Forrest and violinist Gabe Witcher better known to rock fans as bassist for Eve 6-The Best Kept Secret features a typically varied array of guest musicians. The cast includes young axe hero Derek Trucks who plays bracing slide guitar on “She Makes Me Want to Sing”; revered jazz guitarist Bill Frisell who lends his trademark touch to the languid bluesy,Lil’ Ro Ro”; noted bassist Viktor Krauss who also plays on the latter song; and longtime Douglas pals Sam Bush and Bela Fleck whose world-class mandolin and banjo respectively are featured on “Who’s Your Uncle?”

The Best Kept Secret also includes a pair of vocal numbers featuring two notable guest singers. Alison Krauss delivers Back in Love Again, while roots-rock legend John Fogerty participates on the rollicking,Swing Blues #1.” Those tunes follow in the tradition of Douglas’ prior albums which have featured such singers as Steve Earle and James Taylor.

Backing good singers is what I’ve made a lot of my living at and I think that it’s something that I do well so I like to represent that on my records,” says Douglas. “There’s a real art to backing singers to staying out of their way and complementing what they’re saying.”

Douglas originally met Fogerty through their mutual love of dobro.,He came through the South on a dobro-buying trip and he asked to see my collection, he says.,That completely freaked me out because I was such a huge Creedence fan. I found out that we had the same birthday and had all these things in common and we became good friends. Then I played on one of his records not long ago and I sheepishly asked him if he’d be interested in someday doing something on one of mine. He said ‘When do you want to do it? ‘ and I said ‘There’s one happening now…’ We went through the song five or six times and basically got it in one take.”

In addition to showcasing his expressive dobro work The Best Kept Secret also features Douglas’ equally stellar abilities on lap steel guitar on such tracks as “Ya Ya” and “You Are My Flower.” “It’s the most lap steel I’ve played on any record I’ve ever done, he says adding,Going from acoustic dobro to lap steel is kind of like going from using a handsaw to using a chainsaw. The two instruments are related but they call for two completely different sets of techniques and two different ways of thinking.”

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Artist Profiles: Jake Armerding

Jake Armerding

Jake Armerding performed around Massachusetts from an early age often with his father Taylor’s popular bluegrass band Northern Lights. Armerding has won both regional and national acclaim for his mix of bluegrass instrumentation with contemporary melodic songwriting.

His album Jake Armerding was released in the spring of 2003 on Compass Records. It combines Armerding’s fine instrumental skill on guitar fiddle and mandolin with an ingenious set of songs that draw from the traditional forms while staying firmly grounded on contemporary ground.

Discography:

Wrong Highway Blues with Northern Lights (1994)
Living in the City with Northern Lights (1996)
Caged Bird (1999)
Jake Armerding (Compass Records 2003)
Walking on the World (2007)
Songs in Stained Glass (2009)
Her (Stick Shift Records 2009)
Cellar Sessions, with The Fretful Porcupine (2010)
C’mon!, with Barnstar! (2011)
Cosmos in the Chaos (Stick Shift Records, 2013)

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Artist Profiles: Fiddlers 4

Fiddlers 4

Fiddlers 4 was a collaboration featuring some of the finest fiddlers in the United States. Michael Doucet is well loved for his work as the leader of Cajun supergroup BeauSoleil; Darol Anger, a veteran of the David Grisman Quintet and founding member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, is the leading exponent of jazz-infused newgrass; and Bruce Molsky is internationally acclaimed old time fiddler. Together with cellist Rushad Eggleston, the quartet offered a cross-cultural fiddling fest, rooted in the musics of Louisiana, the Appalachian mountains and the Marin, California foothills.

Discography:

The Fiddlers 4 (Compass Records, 2005)

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Artist Profiles: Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs was born and grew up near Shelby, North Carolina in Cleveland County.

For many bluegrass began when Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe’s band with his blazingly fast three-fingered picking banjo style. It quickly became and remains the standard for the true bluegrass banjo sound.

Earl?s next endeavor, Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, continued his fame and legend through work in films and television. From 1948 until 1969 Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys dominated the bluegrass field due to their residency on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville yet that renown was dwarfed by their huge success in 1962.

In 1962 they recorded the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies leading bluegrass into mainstream American culture. That popular TV show led Flatt & Scruggs’ long-time signature tune, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, to be chosen as the background music for the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. In 1969 Earl sought a more contemporary sound and split with Lester to make music with his sons and other musicians in Nashville.

Though it’s been more than three decades since they broke up the music of Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys continues to define the bluegrass sound. The band was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985. Earl Scruggs received the National Heritage Award in 1989, the highest honor given by the National Endowment for the Arts to folk and traditional artists.

www.earlscruggs.com

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Artist Profiles: Doc Watson

Doc Watson

Arthel L. “Doc” Watson was born in Deep Gap North Carolina in 1922 to a musical family. Blind since infancy Doc started playing harmonica and a homemade banjo as a child.

At 13, armed with a $12 Stella guitar, Doc learned both the traditional tunes passed down through his family as well as the new “pop” songs he heard on the radio and records. Yet it wasn’t until Doc was 30 that he started earning money for his music. Hooking up with a local piano player Doc played rockabilly and swing for pay and traditional tunes in his free time.

The 1960s folk revival brought Doc out of the mountains and into the spotlight. Since his “discovery,” Doc became a full time musical artist. He played concerts clubs colleges and festivals all over the country including the Newport Folk Festival the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Carnegie Hall. His style included everything from Appalachian folk music roots to rockabilly, blues, country, gospel and bluegrass. Doc was acknowledged by fans and critics alike as one of the Unirted States’ most accomplished flat-pickers and his artistic influence cannot be overstated. Doc’s many accolades and honors included five Grammy Awards, two honorary degrees, The National Heritage Fellowship, and The National Medal of Arts.

Doc Watson was a disciple of the legendary guitarist Merle Travis. Together with Merle Travis and Chet Atkins he made up the top tier of country guitar. Doc was able to record with his hero before his death.

He recorded over 50 albums blending Appalachian folk music with bluegrass, country ,gospel and the blues. Virtuoso fiddle player Mark O’Connor believes Doc was “as progressive as anybody I’ve ever heard.” There is no skill on the guitar that Doc hadn’t mastered whether it be speed tone or feeling.

In 1985, Doc’s son, Merle,  who was 36-years old, died in a tragic tractor accident a few miles from home. A festival in his honor, Merlefest, was started in North Carolina and has become the largest and most important bluegrass and American folk music festival in the United States.

A historical meeting between Chet Atkins and Doc Watson, two of the 20th century’s most influential American guitarists, was documented in 1980. Released on CD, Reflections has become  an influential guitar album.

The Watson family musical tradition continues with yet another generation. An album called Third Generation Blues found Doc carrying the Watson legacy forward, this time with Merle’s son, Richard on 2nd guitar.

Before he died, Doc Watson was semi-retired. He died on Tuesday May 29, 2012 at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


Discography:

Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s Vol. 1 live (Folkways 1961)
Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s Vol. 2 live (Folkways 1963)
Doc Watson (1964)
Doc Watson & Son (1965)
Southbound (Vanguard 1966)
Ballads From Deep Gap (Vanguard 1967)
Old-Timey Concert (with Clint Howard and Fred Price) (live) (Vanguard 1967)
Doc Watson in Nashville: Good Deal! (Vanguard 1968)
Doc Watson on Stage (Vanguard 1971)
The Elementary Doctor Watson! (Sugar Hill 1972)
Then and Now (Tomato 1973)
The Best of Doc Watson (1973)
Two Days in November (Poppy Records 1974)
Memories (Sugar Hill 1975)
Doc and the Boys (United Artists Records 1976)
Lonesome Road (Beat Goes On 1977)
Look Away! (United Artists Records 1978)
Live and Pickin’ (United Artists Records 1979)
Reflections with Chet Atkins (Sugar Hill SH-3896 1980)Tellulive (Flying Fish 198)
Red Rocking Chair (Flying Fish 1981)
Doc and Merle Watson’s Guitar Album (Flying Fish 1983)
Down South (Sugar Hill 1984)
Pickin’ the Blues (Flying Fish 1985)
Riding the Midnight Train (Sugar Hill 1986)
Portrait (Sugar Hill 1987)
On Praying Ground (Sugar Hill 1990)
Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City (1990)
My Dear Old Southern Home (Sugar Hill 1991)
Remembering Merle (1992)
Live Recordings 1963-198: Off the Record Volume 2 (with Bill Monroe) (1993)
Original Folkways Recordings of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley 196-1962 (1994)
Original Folkways Recordings: 196-1962 (1994)
Docabilly (Sugar Hill 1995)
The Vanguard Years (1995)
Watson Country (1996)
Doc & Dawg with David Grisman (Acoustic Disc 1997)
Elementary Doctor Watson! / Then and Now (1997)
Del Doc & Mac with Del McCoury and Mac Wiseman (Sugar Hill 1998)
Home Sweet Home (Sugar Hill 1998)
Third Generation Blues (Sugar Hill 1999)
The Best of Doc Watson: 1964-1968 (1999)
Foundation: Doc Watson Guitar Instrumental Collection 1964-1998 (2000)
Doc Watson at Gerdes Folk City (live) (2001)
Legacy (2002)
Then and Now/Two Days in November (2002)
The Three Pickers with Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs (2003)
Trouble in Mind: Doc Watson Country Blues Collection (2003)
Sittin’ Here Pickin’ the Blues (Rounder, 2004)
Black Mountain Rag (2006)
Vanguard Visionaries (2007)
Americana Master Series: Best of Doc Watson (2008)
The Definitive Doc Watson (Sugar Hill Records 2013)
Never the Same Way Once, 7 CD boxed set with live concerts by Doc & Merle Watson made in 1974 at The Boarding House in San Francisco (Owsley Stanley Foundation, 2017)

Videos

Doc’s Guitar. Fingerpicking and Flatpicking. 9 minute DVD includes tabbooklet. Produced by Smithsonian/Folkways and Homespun Video.

Flatpicking With Doc. 8-min. video Includes music + tab book. HomespunVideo.

Doc’s Guitar. 9 Min Video Includes Music and Tab. Produced by Smithsonian/Folkways and Homespun Video

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