Hi, there... This page is part of the Slipcue guide to various bluegrass artists, which is part of a much larger Hick Music website. This "guide" is not meant to be comprehensive or authoritative, just a quick look at a few records I've heard recently, as wella s some old favorites. Comments or corrections are invited... and recommendations are always welcome!
This page covers the letter "B"
This early album isn't really all that "alt-y," but it is quite impressive. A sparse, somewhat haunting set with a convincing old-timey vibe. Later they got all bouncy and a bit goofy, but here the Livers play things pretty straight, and the results are quite nice. Worth checking out!
This disc opens with a breakneck breakdown, then settles into a slower, more deliberate mode, with plenty of songs that are clearly About Something. Although what, exactly, I'm not sure, as I couldn't muster myself to fix my attention on the lyrics... I couldn't get past the presentation, which seemed a bit too lofty and self-important, perhaps a bit too influenced by the whole alt.country scene. Later, this band settled into a more traditional, overtly "bluegrass" style, and I think the change did them good. I hate to sound so stuffy, but there you have it: there's something about this album which made it seem flat and unappealling, and I think it stems from the pretentiousness of the presentation.
These are actually the earliest Bad Livers recordings, kitchen tape sessions from 1991... These too-cool readings of many great old gospel tunes is pretty disappointing; what's so great about bluegrass gospel music is the heartfelt passion and searching, earnest feel of the singers... By contrast, the Livers lazily lope their way through through classics such as "I Saw The Light," "Working On A Building," "Gathering Flowers" and "I'm Using My Bible For A Roadmap" and seem to expect to score points just for showing up and knowing all the words to the songs... I suppose these renditions could be hailed as radically new reinterpretations of these peppy old standards, but I'm mostly struck by how lackadaisical and tounge-in-cheek they seem... (To be honest, they kind of sound like the Grateful Dead, except that the Dead connect with this sort of material in a more sincere fashion...) I guess I'm a stickler for tradition, but if ya don't really mean it, why sing it? I'll take some old Carl Story or Bill Monroe tunes over this stuff anyday.
Bad Livers "Hogs On The Highway" (Sugar Hill, 1997)
Bad Livers "Industry And Thrift" (Sugar Hill, 1998)
The Bad Livers "Blood & Mood" (Sugar Hill, 2000)
On a later album, BL's main man Danny Barnes wrote a song called "Bluegrass Suicide," and this hard rock-tinged outing may well be what he was referring to... With monster bass lines straight out of the classic Black Sabbath playbook, trip-hoppy sampling, cuss words and pointedly aimless, noodly pickin' and plunkin' on many songs, this disc seems tailormade to burn as many bridges as possible in the bluegrass world... Guess he was just bored, or something. Anyway, interpreting this as Barnes flipping the bird at the truegrass crowd is probably not that far off the mark... Lord only knows what producer Lloyd Maines made of it all...! Anyway, a few songs -- "Little Bitty Town," "Death Trip" -- are okay, but on the whole this isn't an album I could imagine coming back to that often... Weird career move.
Walter and Johnnie Bailes followed in the path of many other "brother bands" such as the Monroe Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys, although the Bailes's came to the game a little late, and hit their peak in the late 1940s, just as the brother act sound was giving way to larger, more aggressive bluegrass arrangements. Even with added musicians (these recordings from 1945-47 feature added guitar, bass and even a steel guitar), they sounded remarkably like the Blue Sky Boys, so much so that they seem to lack an original style of their own. No matter, however: if you like the style to begin with, then these are grand recordings, fun of energy and life, tight harmonies and tremendous musical drive. Most of the material is religious, including fine gospel songs such as "Do You Expect A Reward From God" and "Has The Devil Got A Mortgage On Your Soul"... Mighty fine listening for fans of the old-timey sound!
Kenny Baker & Joe Greene "High Country" (County, 1967)
Kenny Baker "Portrait Of A Bluegrass Fiddler" (County, 1969)
A dazzling all-instrumental set featuring fiddler Kenny Baker (a long-time collaborator with Bill Monroe) and an able quartet of sidemen, including bassist Harry Shelor, guitarist John Kaparakis, Butch Robins on banjo and a young Sam ("Sammy") Bush, on mandolin, in what was only the second full-album recording session of his career (!) As ever, Baker is a marvel, building off of an indisputably traditional foundation, and injecting a unique livliness and sparkle that sets his work apart from countless other traditionally-oriented fiddle albums. His work isn't explicitly jazz-oriented, but the influence is there, with a bright, full tone and modern melodic approach. This is pretty spectacular playing, but it's enjoyable not just as a piece of technical virtuosity, but also as a really lovely set of music. Highly recommended!
A lovely reissue of two albums originally recorded for the Puritan record label, something Different, from 1972, and 1973's Bucktime, pairing fiddler Kenny Baker up with dobro guru Josh Graves. These sessions are notable not only for the fluid, sympathetic interplay between two mellow-minded old-timers, but also for the chance to hear Baker playing guitar -- which he had to stop doing after an accident in 1977 that damaged the nerves in his left hand. And lemme tell you: it sure sounds sweet! A great mix of songs and rather adventurous instrumentals... well worth tracking this disc down!
Kenny Baker "Frost On The Pumpkin" (County, 1976/2002)
A welcome reissue of one of the great bluegrass instrumental albums of all time... Featuring the venerable fiddler Kenny Baker, a longtime pal of Bill Monroe's, backed up by a small set of superpickers able to follow his lead on these ingenious tunes. Baker's sense of melody and sweetness as saws around the beats on these tunes is really remarkable -- few fiddlers can sound so old-fashioned and yet so fluid and inventive at the same time. This is some real pretty playing. Highly recommended.
Swell fiddle duets by two of the best bow-stretchers in the business... This is one of Hicks's strongest albums ever, while Kenny Baker remains a force of nature. If you like sweet, fancy fiddlin', you'll want to check this one out!
Kenny Baker "Cotton Baggin' 2000" (OMS, 2000)
Bluegrass/old-timey fiddler Kenny Baker is no spring chicken, but he still can saw with the best of them. This was his first album in many a moon, and it shows him still in top form, playing sweet, sweet licks, with Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Josh Graves and others backing him up, and Blaine Sprouse playing a fine twin fiddle behind him. Pretty nice stuff.
Kenny Baker "Spider Bit The Baby" (OMS, 2002)
Another fine set by this soulful old-timer. As with most all-instrumental fiddle records, you have to be a real fan to appreciate a whole record of this stuff, but for those who are down with the program, this is a nice album. Baker plays both sweet and hot, and has a deft melodic twist that will make your ears perk up on tune after tune.
A sweet, all-instrumental album. Some of the more modern-sounding tunes coast into the saccharine style that predominates these days, but the more relaxed, twangier front porch-y stuff is pretty nice. Good album to chill out to.
Butch Baldassari "New Classics For Bluegrass Mandolin" (Soundart, 1998)
Another nice set of inventive instrumentals, some that drift into "new acoustic" territory, but mostly in a relative traditional bluegrass mode. Nice for fans of instrumental music, though somewhat underwhelming overall.
Bad Livers bandmember Danny Barnes cuts loose on a genre-defiant, rambling, grime-flecked mix of bluegrass, old-timey and acoustic-blues-flavored alt.country, reminiscent in spirit to them unruly old Cheap Suit Seranaders albums. Barnes seems to have an axe to grind here -- on the opening track, "Life In The Country," he slags the Nashville scene with an offhand slap: "New country music ain't worth a dime/and the radio plays it alla the time..." while on "Bluegrass Today," he admits the difficulties of thumbing one's nose at showbiz conventions (even inside of an artistic refuge such as the bluegrass scene...) It took a while for this disc to grow on me -- even with musical assist by Darol Anger, Bill Frissel and others, the jagged, chaotic Dock Boggs-ish vibe makes it a little hard to latch onto -- but after a while I came to consider it a minor masterpiece, in that loosey-goosey, iconoclastic ne'er-do-well style pioneered by John Hartford, back in the goodle days. If you're a Livers fan, or just looking for an album that steps out of the norm (while still maintaining a high level of musicianship), then this disc is definitely worth checking out.
An interesting confluence of old-time country, traditional bluegrass and 1930s-style Hawaiian music. Oswald Kirby, (aka Bashful Brother Oswald) once a key member of Roy Acuff's old band, was a veteran radio performer way back in the Depression era, whose career was revitalized by the '60s/'70s folk revival... Here he works through a nice slice of his wide repertoire -- clompy old banjo tunes, gospel recitations and Hawaiian ditties, as well as over-the-top sentimental weepers, such as "Should I Tell My Wife I'm Dying?" They just don't make 'em like this anymore! Oswald was pretty long in the tooth when he made these recordings, but it's still nice stuff, delivered with a simplicity and sincerity that stands the test of time.
Bashful Brother Oswald "Brother Oswald" (Rounder, 1972)
A classic dobro instrumental set, made with young'uns Tut Taylor and Norman Blake in tow, as well as another former member of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys, Charlie Collins, also pitching in. Sweet stuff, also with a healthy odes of old-fashioned Hawaiian music in the mix. Recommended!
A real winner!! Good old-fashioned truegrass in the grand Stanleys/Flatt & Scruggs/Jim & Jesse mold. Sharp, aggressive picking, with equally assertive, authoritatively craggy vocals. Top-flight stuff: well worth tracking down!
A nice mix of gospel and secular bluegrass by this sleek ensemble led by banjoist Terry Baucom and mandolinist Alan Bibey -- late of Quicksilver and IIIrd Tyme Out -- and their new band BlueRidge. Included is guitar picker Junior Sisk, who also contributes a couple of nice tunes to the mix -- more great truegrass for fans to gobble up...!
A strong, salty set of hardcore old-timey music, much of it played solo by Baugus, accompanying himself on fiddle or banjo, and even singing a capella with a hard-won, ultra-traditionalist, nails-on-a-chalkboard, keening wail. If you're into rugged, uncompromised old-time music from the likes of Hazel Adkins, Bruce Molsky or Dirk Powell, then this disc is definitely for you. In fact, Powell, along with Tim O'Brien, is a co-producer of this album and they both play on many of the tracks. This album's a real treat for the faithful, each and every song suffused with the craggy, live-wire intensity that best defines the genre. Definitely recommended!
Bluegrass Albums - More Letter "B"
Hick Music Index