Balsam Range and Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble – Mountain Overture (Mountain Home Music Company, 2018)
Balsam Range, one of the finest acts in the current bluegrass scene, has recreated some of its cherished songs in Mountain Overture. It’s a collaboration with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble (a 14-piece version of the 36-piece Atlanta Pops Orchestra).
The new versions of well-known Balsam Range songs take a different form, mixing the rural mountain music of North Carolina with classical music. It’s a beautiful combination that enriches the band’s sound and gives the songs a new life.
Balsam Range and Atlanta Pops Orchestra Ensemble have performed together in the past two years and showcased the album at major bluegrass events this year.
Mountain Overture is a masterfully sculpted album that brings together traditional and academic music, recreating memorable songs by Balsam Range.
Whorls is the debut album of a superb string band led by fiddler Jeremy Kittel, who was a member of the renowned Turtle Island Quartet. The ensemble features 5 talented musicians who deliver an exquisite mix of American and Celtic roots music, jazz and classical music.
The majority of the tracks on Whorls are instrumental, showcasing the instrumentalists’ virtuosity, improvisatory skills and melodic creativity. Mesmerizing vocals are featured on two tracks, provided by Kittel and Sarah Jarosz, who adds spellbinding ethereal harmonies.
The lineup on Whorls includes Jeremy Kittel on violin, viola and vocals; Josh Pinkham on mandolin; Quinn Bachand on guitar; Nathaniel Smith on cello and organ; and Simon Chrisman on hammered-dulcimer. Guest: Sarah Jarosz on vocals.
Whorls is a masterfully-crafted with stellar violin, cello, mandolin, guitar and hammered dulcimer performances.
Unspoken Tradition is a North Carolina bluegrass band inspired by traditional music and other influences. Their material is primarily original and mirrors the ever-changing culture of Western and Central North Carolina where they are based.
The band released an independent debut album, Simple Little Town (2013) that was well received. Their follow up recording was Miles Between (2015).
In 2015, Unspoken Tradition played the main stage at the historic MerleFest festival and has quickly grown a dedicated following in North Carolina and beyond.
The Unspoken Tradition lineup in 2018 included Audie McGinnis on guitar and vocals; Lee Shuford on bass and vocals; Zane McGinnis on banjo; Ty Gilpin on mandolin and vocals; and Tim Gardner on fiddle and vocals.
Druha Trava (Second Grass) was formed in 1991 in the Czech Republic. Their musical heritage comes from a place far from the Appalachian communities where bluegrass originated.
Since its formation, Druha Trava has achieved star status in their Czech homeland and the group is one of the most awarded and internationally acclaimed European bands. Each of the five members is a masterful multi-instrumentalist whose influences include bluegrass, jazz, rock, country, folk and classical music.
Druha Trava was co-founded by Robert Krestan, the group’s lead singer and principal writer. In the Czech Republic, Krestan is recognized as one of the premiere stars of bluegrass and country music. He credits the “tramp movement” with the extraordinary popularity that bluegrass music is presently enoying in his country. (In the Czech Republic, the expression “tramp music” refers to an ever-evolving style that combines such Western influences as swing, country and bluegrass.)
Krestan explains that this affinity for Western music was inspired further by Pete Seeger who toured Czechoslovakia in 1962 and introduced the 5string banjo to a population that was unfamiliar with the instrument. As a result of Seeger’s musical ambassadorship, many musicians began to play stringed instruments, learn the melodies of traditional American folk and bluegrass songs and adapt Czech lyrics to fit the melody lines. Robert Krestan and Druha Trava are expanding that trend by performing songs in both Enghsh and Czech languages.
Druha Trava came together in 1991, and have become known as one of the most successful international “bluegrass” bands of all time. They have been voted Band of the Year by the Czech Recording Industry (formerly Czech “Grammy” awards), as well as by the Banjo Jamboree Festival in Strakonice. In addition to Krestan, Druha Trava includes the following members: Lubos Malina (banjo player and co-founder, who Dirty Linen Magazine describes as “unquestionably one of the best banjo players in Europe”), Lubos Novotny (Dobro), Martin Ledvina (guitar), and Jiri Meisner (bass).
Individually, each of these musicians has received numerous yearly awards as Instrumentalist of the Year on his respective instrument. Together, they have created their own exciting brand of progressive bluegrass which has made them one of the best selling bands of any genre in the Czech Republic, and has earned them appearances or recording collaborations with Ricky Skaggs, Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck, Peter Rowan, Andy Owens and the Irish superstar, Davy Spillane.
Czechmate was Druha Trava’s sixth album and first US release.
Robert Křesťan a Druhá Tráva (Bonton, 1991)
Revival (Monitor, 1992) Starodávný svět (Venkow, 1994)
Druhá Tráva s Pavlínou Jíšovou (Venkow, 1995)
Second Grass Live (Venkow, 1995)
Postcard (Venkow/Polygram, 1997) Czechmate (Venkow, 1998) New Freedom Bell, with Peter Rowan (Compass Records, 1999)
Best and Last (Venkow, 2001)
Nech svět, ať se točí dál (Venkow, 2002)
Live in Brno (with Charlie McCoy Venkow, 2004) Good Morning, Friend (Universal, 2004)
Dylanovky (Universal, 2007)
Marcipán z Toleda (Universal, 2011)
Country and bluegrass guitarist, producer and songwriter Randy Scruggs died on April 17, 2018. He won four Grammy Awards and was named “Musician of the Year” at the Country Music Association Awards two times. He was the son of Earl Scruggs.
Randy Lynn Scruggs was born on August 3, 1953. He participated in his first recording at the age of 13. He worked with some of the finest artsts in the country and bluegrass genres. He released an album titled Second Generation Scruggs (Vanguard Records) with his brother Gary in 1970 and a solo album, Crown of Jewels (Reprise Records, 1998).
“Four-time GRAMMY winner Randy Scruggs was a celebrated musician, producer, and songwriter,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “Throughout his extensive career, he collaborated with an impressive roster of fellow country and bluegrass artists, including Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, and Dolly Parton, among many others. He earned his first GRAMMY in the Best Country Instrumental Performance category for “Amazing Grace” at the 32nd GRAMMY Awards and went on to win three additional GRAMMYs in the same category for “A Soldier’s Joy,” “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and “Earl’s Breakdown.” As the son of bluegrass pioneer and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Earl Scruggs, Randy continued his family’s musical legacy and was one of Nashville’s most esteemed producers and session players, leaving a lasting mark on Music City. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and collaborators during this difficult time.”
Vassar Clements was one the United States’ most versatile fiddle players. His career began at a very early age. His phenomenal ability to virtually play any kind of music (bluegrass, country, pop, rock, jazz and swing) garnered him various awards including five Grammy nominations and a track record that involves multitudes of recording performances.
Vassar was a prolific composer of instrumentals and played seven instruments: violin, viola, cello, bass, mandolin, guitar and tenor banjo.
Vassar’s career spanned over fifty years. His association with Bill Monroe began when he was only 14 years old and still in school. He started with Bill as a regular Bluegrass Boy in 1949 and was with him through 1956. From 1957 to 1961 he performed with bluegrass artists Jim & Jesse McReynolds. In 1962 he took leave from his music to pursue other interests but returned to full time music when he decided to make Nashville his home in January 1967.
Vassar did recording sessions and played tenor banjo in Nashville’s Dixieland Landing club until October 1969. He then started touring with Faron Young and doing occasional solo dates when time permitted. In February 1971 he joined John Hartford and his Dobrolic Plectral Society, initiating a professional association and personal friendship that has grew stronger through the years. After ten months and earning an enormous amount of recognition and popularity, the group decided to disband. Vassar then found himself with the legendary Earl Scruggs and the Earl Scruggs Revue.
During that time, one of the most important milestones in his career was his participation on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 Landmark album Will The Circle Be Unbroken. This historical event was produced by William McEuen and featured an extravaganza of bluegrass, country and folk’s greatest artists. It was the turning point that re-kindled Vassar’s career and at the same time introduced him to a much younger non-country audience.
Within a few short months Vassar was recording and/or performing with Dicky Betts, Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, David Grisman, Paul McCartney, etc. In May 1973, The classic Old & In The Way album was recorded in San Francisco during a live performance. The Sales from this project have exceeded other albums of like kind and has formed staunch cults that still exist after twenty three years.
Since 1973 when Vassar signed his first major label deal with Mercury/Polygram records his personal discography ranged from country, waltzes, swing to jazz. Ironically, in 1992 he recorded his only straight bluegrass recording for Rounder Records titled Grass Routes.
His early experience growing with jazz and swing music left an indelible mark on his style. Vassar said: “bands like Glen Miller, Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Artie Shaw were very popular when I was a kid. I always loved rhythm so I guess in the back of my mind the swing and jazz subconsciously comes out when I play because when I was learning I was always trying to emulate the big band sounds I heard on my fiddle.” Understandably the form of jazz music created by Clements was a mix of the diverse influences that touched him throughout his career but particularly his affinity for the jazz and swing music of his youth.
Therefore it is no surprise that even though early in his career, as he learned and developed bluegrass and country styles, he also gained respect as a jazz player. Hence classic number two: Once In A While which resulted from a jam session with Miles Davis’s ex-band members Dave Holland, John Abercrombie and Jimmy Cobb. Classic number three: Together At Last. with Stephane Grappelli was produced by Tim Yaquinto and recorded in Vassar’s former studio.
Back Porch Swing was Vassar’s first album to feature the Little Big Band. Recorded between September 1997 and September 1998 at the Historic RCA Studio B in Nashville Back Porch Swing was performed almost entirely live with the exception of vocal and string overdubs.
Vassar Clements participated in Dead Grass (2000) a bluegrass twist on some Grateful Dead favorites.
Full Circle (OMS Records) released in 2001 had Vassar returning to his bluegrass roots with an all star cast that included Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Bryan Sutton, Peter Rowan, John Cowan, Josh Graves, Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, J. D. Crowe, Billy Troy, Alan O’Bryant, Ricky Skaggs, Jim & Jesse and Jake Landers.
In May of 2004 Runaway Fiddle (OMS Records) came out. This project was a labor of love of two of the greatest American fiddle players of modern times Vassar Clements and Buddy Spicher. Buddy Spicher is one of Nashville’s most recorded session artists and arrangers. On Runaway Fiddle these two legends teamed up to record tunes they grew up loving playing and internalizing but for the most part never recording. Selections include 192’s show tunes Western Swing Dixieland. Several songs are interpretations of songs popularized by country music icon Bob Wills who created the new art form called Western Swing.
His CD Livin’ With The Blues (Acoustic Disc) was released in August of 2004. It was his first blues album. While Vassar Clements has often been considered the ?bluesiest? of the bluegrass fiddlers it wasn?t until producer Grisman asked him what kind of record he wanted to make that the soft spoken septuagenarian replied “I’ve always wanted to make a blues record.”
Livin? With The Blues includes Skip James? swampy “Cypress Grove ” with Vassar’s lonesome fiddle accompanied by Bob Brozman’s slide guitar. Elvin Bishop cleans house with his own “Dirty Drawers” and “That?s My Thing ” while Maria Muldaursings with Vassar on “Honey Babe Blues” and Bessie Smith?s “I Ain?t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle.” Other tracks include Roy Rogers desolate take on Robert Johnson?s “Phonograph Blues ” “Mambo Boogie” featuring Dave Mathews and the Booker T. Jones classic “Green Onions ” given a new twist by Charlie Musselwhite and Vassar. “Rube’s Blues” featured blues guitar whiz David Jacob-Strain (who was 19 at the time) helping Vassar reinvent a bluegrass standard and Norton Buffalo with his unique soul treatment of his own “Don’t Stand Behind A Mule.”
In November of 2004 Vassar Clements joined bluegrass quartet The Biscuit Burners onstage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Vassar played on two of the band’s original songs “Come On Darlin'” and “Red Mountain Wine”. The surprise appearance was part of the historic Ryman Auditorium’s $1 on the 1th Mystery Artist Series celebrating the 1 year anniversary of the legendary theater’s renovation.
On March 11, 2005 Vassar was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died at his home August 16th, 2005 at 8:25 am. He was 77.
[Biography adapted from Vassar Clement’s official biography].
Vassar (Mercury Records)
Superbow (Mercury Records)
Southern Waltzes (Rhythm Records)
Vassar Clements John Hartford & Dave Holland (Rounder Records)
Crossing The Catskills (Rounder Records 1972)
Vassar Clements (MCA Records)
The Bluegrass Session (Flying Records 1977) Grass Routes (Rounder Records)
Saturday Night Shuffle – A Celebration of Merle Travis (Shanachie Records)
Hillbilly Jazz (Flying Records 1978)
Hillbilly Jazz Rides Again (Flying Records)
New Hillbilly Jazz (Shikata Records)
Together At Last with Stephane Grappelli (Flying Records 1987)
Nashville Jam (Flying Records)
Westport Drive (Mind Dust Records)
The Man The Legend (Vassillie Productions)
Country Classics (Vassillie Productions)
Vassar Clements Reunion With Dixie Gentlemen (Old Homestead) Once In A While, Jam with Miles Davis’ ex-band members (Flying Fish Records 1992)
Live in Telluride 1979 (Vassillie Productions 1979)
Music City USA (Vassillie Productions)
Old And In The Way – Volume 1 (BMG Music)
Old and In The Way – That High Lonesome Sound – Volume 2 (Acoustic Disc)
Old and In The Way – Breakdown – Volume 3 (Acoustic Disc)
An Americana Christmas with Norman Blake (Winter Harvest)
The Bottom Line Encore Collection (Bottom line 1999)
Vassar’s Jazz – Golden Anniversary (Winter Harvest)
Back Porch Swing (Chrome Records 2000)
Dead Grass (Cedar Glen Music Group)
20 Fiddle Tunes & Waltz Favorites
Full Circle (OMS Records 2001)
Will The Circle Be Unbroken – Volume II – 3th Anniversary Edition (Capitol Records)
Will The Circle Be Unbroken (United Artists)
Will The Circle Be Unbroken – Volume III (Capitol Records)
Old & In The Gray (Acoustic Disc)
Runaway Fiddle with Buddy Spicher (OMS Records) Livin’ With The Blues (Acoustic Disc 2004)
The Fiddle According to Vassar (Homespun Tapes). Taught By Vassar Clements. 9-minute DVD or VHS Includes music book
Vassar Clements In Concert – Vassar Swings (Shikata Records)
Vassar Clements In Concert – Ramblin’ 81 (Shanachie Records)
Tony Trischka is one of the most influential banjo players in the American roots music world. In his 40 plus years as a consummate banjo artist his stylings have inspired generations of bluegrass and acoustic musicians.
A true luminary in the banjo world, his technical and conceptual advances opened the way for such players as Bela Fleck and Alison Brown. His recordings with them and others such as Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Pete Seeger, members of REM, William S. Burroughs, Natalie Merchant, Alison Krauss and Steve Martin are part of every banjo-lovers musical reference.
Tony has raised the awareness of both the banjo and his music with numerous articles in the national press, interviews on radio, and television appearances. His solo album for Smithsonian Folkways Records, Territory was named Best Americana Album at the Independent Music Awards. He also produced Steve Martin’s Rare Bird Alert (Rounder) which features performances by Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks.
Tony is also the musical director of the documentary The Banjo Project, aired on PBS. In addition Tony is one of the instrument’s top teachers and has created numerous instructional books DVDs and CDs.
The ground-breaking Tony Trischka School of Banjo launched in July of 2009.
Bluegrass Light (Rounder Select 1973)
Heartlands (Rounder 1975)
Banjoland (Rounder Select 1976)
Fiddle Tunes for Banjo (Rounder 1981)
Robot Plane Flies Ove Arkansas (Rounder Select 1983) Hill Country (Rounder Select 1985)
Skyline Drive (FlyingFish 1986)
Dust on the Needle (Rounder 1987)
Fire of Grace (Flying Fish 1989)
World Turning (Rounder Select 1993)
Alone & Together Alcazar 1994) Glory Shone Around: A Christmas Collection (Rounder 1995)
Live at Birchmere Strictly Music 1995)
Bend (Rounder 1999)
New Deal (Rounder 2003) Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular (Rounder 2007)
Territory (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2008)
The Mountain Music Project: A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya (Mountain Music Project 2012) Great Big World (Rounder 2014)
Born in 1954, O’Brien grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia listening to the Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller records played by his parents and a Polish housekeeper’s Lawrence Welk recordings. A weekly country music radio show The Saturday Night Jamboree, broadcast from a local theater, sparked a life-long fire in the young O’Brien. During these impressionable days he saw performances by country and rockabilly legends such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Roger Miller.
He got his first guitar at the age of 12 and he played with numerous rock bands in high school. He was steered towards country and bluegrass music by Roger Bland, a banjo-playing patient of a girlfriend’s psychiatrist father. A former member of Lester Flatt’s band Bland taught O’Brien to play in the three-finger style of Earl Scruggs.
After a year at Colby College in Maine he left school to head west. Tim moved to Boulder, Colorado where he met future Hot Rize band mates, a band which stayed together for 12 years and continues to get together from time to time. Although their initial sound was very traditional, Hot Rize continued to evolve in a more progressive direction. A tremendously popular part of Hot Rize’s performances came when the four musicians left the stage changed wardrobe and re-emerged as the western honky tonk group Red Knuckles & The Trailblazers. The joke grew and the group actually recorded several albums under this guise.
O’Brien has also collaborated on several albums with his sister Mollie. They spent most of their later teens apart but sang in church and school choirs together.
O’Brien met Kathy Mattea, who joined him on two tracks from The Crossing, while performing at the Summerlights Festival in Nashville. After Mattea had hits with covers of his songs “Untold Stories” and “Walk The Way The Wind Blows,” O’Brien decided to leave Hot Rize to spend more time crafting songs. His songs have since been recorded by The Johnson Mountain Boys, Garth Brooks, Laurie Lewis, The Seldom Scene and The New Grass Revival.
The Crossing released in 1999 was a landmark album that featured Tim O’Brien and other American musicians collaborating with Irish musicians. It was the inevitable next step for Tim O’Brien, a multi-instrumentalist songcrafter and true spearhead of the contemporary bluegrass movement. Like many Irish-Americans, Tim took an interest in his Irish roots tracing lineage back to his great-grandfather Thomas O’Brien from County Cavan who arrived to the United States in 1851.
Tim O’Brien has his own band known as the O’Boys. He also collaborates with songwriter Darrell Scott, old time musicians John Hermann and Dirk Powell, and with the members of New Grange.
In the year 2010 Tim O’Brien was appointed president of the International Bluegrass Music Asssociation (IBMA). That same year a new album in collaboration with Irish musicians came out. Although titled Two Journeys it is also known as The Crossing 2.
Hot Rize, with Hot Rize (Flying Fish, 1979)
Radio Boogie, with Hot Rize (Flying Fish, 1981)
Hard Year Blues (Flying Fish, 1984)
Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, with Hot Rize (1984)
Traditional Ties, with Hot Rize (Sugar Hill 3748 1986)
Untold Stories, with Hot Rize (Sugar Hill, 1987)
Take Me Back (Sugar Hill, 1988)
Take It Home, with Hot Rize (Sugar Hill, 1990)
Odd Man In (Sugar Hill, 1991)
Remember Me (Sugar Hill, 1992)
Oh Boy! O’Boy! (Sugar Hill, 1993)
Away Out On The Mountain (Sugar Hill, 1994)
Rock In My Shoe (Sugar Hill. 1995)
Red On Blonde (Sugar Hill, 1996)
When No One’s Around (Sugar Hill, 1997)
The Crossing (Alula Records, 1999)
Real Time with Darrell Scott (Howdy Skies, 2000)
Two Journeys (Howdy Skies, 2001)
So Long of a Journey: Live at the Boulder Theater (Sugar Hill, 2002)
Songs From The Mountain (Howdy Skies, 2002)
Traveler (Sugar Hill, 2003)
Cornbread Nation (Sugar Hill, 2005)
Fiddler’s Green (Sugar Hill, 2005)
Chameleon (Howdy Skies, 2008)
Chicken & Egg (Howdy Skies, 2010)
We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This (Full Skies, 2012)
Memories & Moments (Full Skies, 2013)
Pompadour (Howdy Skies, 2015)
Where The River Meets the Road (Howdy Skies, 2017)
The North Carolina-based Steep Canyon Rangers are Mike Guggino (mandolin), Charles Humphrey III (bass), Woody Platt (guitar), Nicky Sanders (fiddle) and Graham Sharp (banjo). The group first formed during their college days at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The band is committed to roots music performing with fierce instrumental prowess, but also providing deeply moving songwriting and harmonies. The band infuses traditional bluegrass with contemporary themes and arrangements.
In 2010 the Steep Canyon Rangers released “Deep in the Shade.” The following year, The Steep Canyon Rangers released its first collaborative record with comedian and banjo player Steve Martin.
Nobody Knows You released April 1, 2012 is the seventh album from group and their Rounder Records debut. It was named Best Bluegrass Album at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards held February 10th 2013 in Los Angeles.
Further collaborations with steve Martin continued in 2014 and 2017.
The Dillards’ Rodney Dillard (guitar) and Douglas Dillard (banjo) grew up playing music with their family and friends including a teenaged John Hartford in Missouri. They performed on a St. Louis radio station as The Dillard Brothers in 1958, recording for a local label.
The Dillards played their first show at Washington University in St. Louis and hit the road for Los Angeles in 1962. A DesiLu Studios rep saw an ad in Variety magazine about Elektra signing The Dillards and within days they were called in to audition for the role of The Darlins on The Andy Griffith Show. Their original songs have become bluegrass standards like The Old Home Place, Dooley Doug’s Tune, Banjo in the Holler and There is a Time.
The Dillards incorporated stand-up comedy into their stage show and their talents as entertainers brought bluegrass to new audiences in urban clubs from Los Angeles to New York City on college campuses, in movie scores at folk festivals and on tour with mainstream rock bands and comedians.
The band’s unique flair for songwriting and arrangement affected a broad range of important future musicians in the bluegrass and pop music world alike. They are credited with helping set the stage for the country rock movement and the burgeoning progressive sounds of bluegrass. The Dillards were inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2009.
Rodney Dillard now tours with The Dillard Band and the group released I Wish Life Was Like Mayberry on Rural Rhythm.
Rodney Dillard was inducted into the Missouri Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
Douglas Dillard died on May 16, 2012.
Back Porch Bluegrass (Elektra 1963)
Live!!!! Almost!!! (Elektra 1964)
Pickin’ and Fiddlin’ with Byron Berline (Elektra 1965) Wheatstraw Suite (Elektra 1968) Copperfields (Elektra 1970)
Roots and Branches (Anthem 1972)
Tribute to the American Duck (Poppy 1973)
The Dillards vs. The Incredible L.A. Time Machine (Flying Fish 1977)
Mountain Rock (Crystal Clear 1978)
Decade Waltz (Flying Fish 1979)
Homecoming and Family Reunion (Flying Fish 198)
Let It Fly (Vanguard 1991)
Take Me Along For The Ride (Vanguard 1992) A Long Time Ago: The First Time Live (Varese Sarabande 1999)
Early Recordings – 1959 (Varese Sarabande 1999) I Wish Life Was Like Mayberry (Rural Rhythm 2001) Don’t Wait for the Hearse to Take You to Church (Rural Rhythm 2011)
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion