Saturday, May 1, 2010

Adendum to the Bluegrass Music

By Nick

Alongside the great classic Bluegrass artists described below, many newer Bluegrass artists have gained popularity in the last 30 years.

Ricky Skaggs started out playing Mandolin at a young age and for a brief moment at age 5 played with Bill Monroe on stage. After a successful career in mainstream country music, he left his label, tired of playing music that he didn't like. He formed (I believe) a new band, Kentucky Thunder, and began playing the music that he had grown up on: Bluegrass. Skaggs's style is very technical, with long and complicated solos. Ricky's talent on the mandolin is gargatuan. Mixed in with his faster, more solo based songs are his ballads, usually about the country themes of God and family. Skaggs is a bit more cosmopolitan than his inspiration, Bill Monroe, and he recorded an entire album with Bruce Hornsby, which included a Bluegrass rendition of "Super Freak" by Rick James. I have not listened to the album (yet), but with a cover like that, it has to be good.

Interestingly enough, my dad and I had the chance to see Ricky Skaggs in a Cracker Barrel in Franklin, Tennessee. Our table was next to his, but separated by a thin partition. We could feel the talent.

Marty Stuart is another young bluegrass prodigy who started performing at a young age, and ended up playing with Lester Flatt in his late teens. He then graduated to playing guitar for Johnny Cash before going solo. His early music in his solo career blended country, roots rock and bluegrass. His later music is more bluegrass influenced, but his musical range is such that he is equally at home in Nashville or Memphis. He is known for his amazing hair, his slightly rascally personality, and his marriages to Cindy Cash and Connie Smith (who is about 20 years his senior)

Alison Krauss is another Bluegrass singer and musician who started off at a young age. Despite not having performed with a legend like Marty or Ricky, she joined the Grand Old Opry at 21. She performed on the Soundtracks to O Brother, Where Art Thou, and Cold Mountain, among others. Her most recent Cd is a collaboration with Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant. Despite not having a Bluegrass rendition of "Stairway to Heaven", it has gotten good reviews from the press, whatever that means.

Many Newer bluegrass groups have come out in the last few years who combine bluegrass with overtones of indie, American folk, or singer-songwriter music. Some of these groups include Nickel Creek, Sarah Jarosz, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops,Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand, and The Infamous Stringdusters. I have only dabbled in this music, but much of it sounds good.

Jazz has always been an influence on bluegrass music: Bill Monroe's "Rocky Road Blues" swings as much as anything by Louis Armstrong. Sarah Jarosz blends bluegrass instrumentation with music in the vein of Jazz-influenced singer-songwriters like Norah Jones. I look forward to being able to listen to and review more new bluegrass acts. In addition to that, she looks eerily like Anna Popplewell, best known for her role as Susan in The Chronicles of Narnia films.

1 comment:

  1. Let me give you a couple to check out:

    Mumford & Sons is amazing if you've never heard them. Folk influenced, great songwriting, British bluegrass/pop mixed with Coldplay/Arcade Fire. Crank it up loud (but turn it down for "Little Lion Man," has some words in it if you know what I mean).

    Doug Burr from Denton, TX. Christian guy (one album is all psalms set to music) but nice, bluesy, folk with bluegrass influences. Great songwriter and musician.

    Woven Hand, Christian Southern Gothic Folk Rock. He's really big in Europe where they love the music but can't understand the reformed theology in the lyrics.

    Brooks Ritter, a southern folk singer songwriter with some good, reformed theology.

    Buddy Miller, an Old School country singer with some Christian themes.

    The Avett Brothers, some great, great New Bluegrass influenced by Indie Rock. Excellent songwriters, harmonies and music.

    So much more, but that will do for now. Good article, interesting reading.