Get to Know Some Great Bluegrass

When I tell folks that I am passionate about bluegrass, they always seem to think that bluegrass died fifty years ago. While I find Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs as good as anything played today, I always share with them that there is some great bluegrass–more than ever, I would argue–being made now. And, more and more, artists are merging bluegrass with other genres, including punk, pop, and heavy metal. So, for someone who wants to discover bluegrass, I am listing my Top Ten Recent Bluegrass Records:

  1. mount.jpgThe Mountain by Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band – Earle always includes one or two bluegrass-influenced songs on his album but this is nothing but. Joining one of the best songwriters of recent years with the legend of the high lonesome sounds leads to my single favorite bluegrass album ever.
  2. Delusions of Banjer by Bad Livers – Bad Livers fused punk and bluegrass to become a huge local draw in Austin, TX. Danny Barnes is one of the best banjo players in music and continues to dazzle with solo records and work for other artists.
  3. is.jpgFork in the Road by The Infamous Stringdusters– My vote for best new bluegrass band. These are a bunch of young guys writing great songs and playing at lightning speeds. I love the dobro playing on this one.
  4. The Company We Keep by The Del McCoury Band – There is usually a good reason why someone is a living legend. That is definitely true in the case of Del, who is almost 70 years old. This is a phenomanal album with some of the best bluegrass tunes recorded in the 00s. “Never Grow Up Boy” is one of my top five bluegrass favorites of all time.
  5. cherry.jpgCherryholmes by Cherryholmes – This family band is simply amazing. The kids in the band–all 22 or younger–are simply amazing musicians. Another band who puts on a great show. Their second album is great too but I expected that. This album was a real discovery.
  6. Never Make It Home by Split Lip Rayfield – Another band fusing bluegrass with punk (sometimes called “thrash-grass”), SLR plays at lightning fast speeds. Plus, how can you not love a band that features a bass made from the fuel tank of a Ford van. Unfortunately, Kirk Rundstrom, the driving force behind and songwriter for SLR, passed away earlier this year from throat cancer.
  7. hack.jpgLook Out by The Hackensaw Boys – This is a new discovery for me. They too play traditional bluegrass with attitude. This stuff just makes you happy. They would probably be higher on my list if I had been listening to them for longer than two weeks.
  8. Long Way Back Home by The Gibson Brothers – This is kind of bluegrass meets pop folk. It is great stuff that after a few listens you will find yourself singing along. All of their stuff is good but this is my favorite.
  9. Long List of Heartbreaks by The Grascals – I avoided these guys because of their seeming connection to bad contemporary country music. But, I was won over at a festival. They are extremely talented and put on a great show. Plus, all mandolin players should aspire to this level of playing.
  10. You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver – I couldn’t leave off Doyle. Another legend, Doyle Lawson continues to record great songs. This is the album I put on when I want something truly happy. I love their live shows: the banter between Doyle and Jamie Dailey, guitar palyer and singer, is quite funny.

There you go. Take your pick of any one of these and you can’t go wrong. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; there are hundreds more great artists making great bluegrass out there. Check out No Depression (hits on the more innovative stuff along with other great Americana-type music); or Bluegrass Unlimited (more traditional) for more great new and established artists. But, a warning, if you subscribe to either, expect to have some cash on hand to dedicate to buying new music when the latest issue arrives. I just spent $60 on iTunes after reading the latest No Depression–and that doesn’t count the albums that were reviewed and haven’t come out yet.

BTW, I am not including old time string bands as bluegrass unless they have significant bluegrass-y playing. I will do another string band list because there has been a real rise recently in great old time string bands as well.
Have fun! If you really like it, pick up an instrument and learn to play. I am studying mandolin and could use a banjo player, guitar picker, and bass player–if you can sing, all the better.

One Response to “Get to Know Some Great Bluegrass”

  1. drtombibey Says:

    Hey there. I’m a doc who plays bluegrass mandolin. I like your blog- don’t know how I’ve missed it.

    I have been around the music all my life and find your taste in bands very similar to mine.

    Dr. Tom Bibey

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