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 well as some old favorites. Comments or corrections are invited... and recommendations are always welcome!
This is the first page covering the letter "C"
The third Capitol LP from this future countrypolitan star was a "bluegrass" album of sorts, with backing by the Dale Fitzsimmons and Carl Tanberg of The Green River Boys. Campbell had been working as a session picker for several years before he cut this disc, an amiable pop-folk knockoff that started his long, profitable association with the Capitol label. It's not really so much a bluegrass album as a bouncy set of country standards, delivered with a bland, unquashable cheerfulness reminiscent of the then-booming Folk revival. Not a bad album, actually... For Glen, it was a positively rootsy outing.
Shawn Camp - see artist discography
The Carter Family -- see artist discography
Bright-toned, bouncy instrumentals, featuring the sleek, savvy sawing of Jason Carter, fiddler for the Del McCoury Band. Carter has a solid command of the old-timey style, but uses this solo album as a chance to stretch out and depart a bit from the sharp traditionalism of the McCoury crew. Some of these tunes feel a bit light, but overall, this is a fine, eminently listenable disc. Don Rigsby chips in for some smoky vocals, just to break things up a little.
A beautiful bluegrass album that grows on me a little bit more every time I listen to it. The picking is solid throughout, but it's really singer John Chapman who makes this album live and breathe: his sweet, plaintive style reminds me of the young Ricky Skaggs, both in vocal tenor and in the heartfelt way he approaches each song.
A fine, generously programmed document of this early bluegrass revival band, gathering the material from two old Prestige/Folklore albums, 1962's Bluegrass And Old Timey Music and Blue Grass Get Together, with Tex Logan, which was recorded in 1964. These city slickers, who came out of the late-'50s Harvard University folk scene, perfectly captured the clattersome, irrepressible spirit of the old-time stringbands, and these two lively records were among the early touchstones of the 1960s bluegrass boom, adding a fine counterpart to the more old-timey orientation of the better-known New Lost City Ramblers. On their second album, the Charles River Valley lads were joined by Joe Val, who went on to be a key player in the East Coast truegrass scene, as well as fiddler Tex Logan, a veteran of top-flight '50s country acts such as Hawkshaw Hawkins' band, as well as bluegrass stalwarts, The Lilly Brothers. At times the playing is pretty ragged; the Get Together album is certainly more accomplished and more fluid, but all these songs have a great deal of spunk to them,even if the playing is less than perfect. An interesting historical glimpse at the roots of today's modern bluegrass scene, and fine music in and of itself!
The Beatles were the first rock band to find widespread mainstream acceptance and respectability, not only in the world of "adult" pop music and academia, but even in the hallowed halls of hillbilly hickdom. This mid-'60s relic is an early indication of that acceptance, a glib bluegrass tribute to the Fab Four that sometimes dips into Homer & Jethro-like parody, but generally plays things pretty straight. Honestly, though, as a bluegrass album, this curio rarely rises above novelty status: the picking isn't top-flight and the vocals sound blithe and insincere (even with a young Joe Val in the trio). It's cute, but it's not very engaging.
Indiebilly types who bend their hands at bluegrass, these Chatham boys seem dutiful and earnest, maybe a little too on-their-sleeve-y at times, but with their hearts in the right place. Highlights include a whiz-bang instrumental, ("Butterwheel") and a goofy, loopy tribute to John Hartford (called, appropriately enough, "Song For John Hartford") which has the same sort of imitative oddness as, say, Don Bowman's word-for-word cover version of "Alice's RestaurantÉ Bluegrass purists will probably scorn these guys (and, admittedly, they don't quite have the instrumental chops to put them on any festival A-lists) but they're certainly worth checking out, regardless. What with schedule conflicts playing in Tift Merritt's band and all, it seems doubtful they'll really stick it out as bluegrassers, but as genre-straddling albums go, this one's worth checking out.
Wow. These guys have grown up... a lot since their last album... Not that they weren't good before, but this album really hits the nail on the head... Some really soulful, richly inventive space folk/Americana, with a dash of the bluegrass twang they previously specialized in. There are several songs on here that are simply enthralling -- maybe not "great" songs or classics that I'd find myself singing along to for years to come, but there's something arresting about them -- the skillful, assured musicianship along with the thin, urgent, intelligent vocals -- that lets you know these are real country fans, fully committed to their music, and capable of taking it in new directions. We need more records like this -- musically mature, culturally adept and full of sly, sensual depth. I'm impressed!
This is, flat out, one of the best true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, traditionally oriented bluegrass groups this side of Del McCoury's band... This album is a real sizzler, with plenty of sweet pickin' and soulful vocals that are aglow with sincerity, emotion and depth... The Cherryholmes family, who hail from Southern California, sound like they really enjoy playing this music, and the feeling beams through to the listeners as well... This is, above all, a really fun record. This is their fourth album and, honestly, there isn't a weak track on it... Speaking of which, the song selection is also first-rate, from numerous crackling originals to some well-chosen oldies such as
Ew. I mean, sure, there are several players on here that I deeply admire, namely Mike Auldridge and Jimmy Gaudreau... even Tony Rice makes a guest appearance on a version of "Summer Wages..." But this is a pretty dismal crossover effort, with a drippy progressive style which I suppose is an attempt to tap into the "adult contemporary" style pioneered by Alison Krauss, et al. The quartet is led by lead singer Moondi Klein, and there's just something incredibly leaden and overbaked about the whole project... Doc Watson adds fulsome praise for the band on the back cover.. but I guess even ol' Doc can have a few lapses in judgement. At any rate, I can see the argument for modernizing the music, but this particular project really didn't work for me.
Same crew with mainly the same approach... The picking is sharper and has more twang, but the vocals still sink this album like a rock. Good song selection, with classics like "Are You Tired Of Me, My Darling," Steve Gillette's "Sweet Melinda" and Norman Blake's "Last Train From Poor Valley..." But every tune invariably becomes unlistenable when Klein's mannered vocals kick into full gear. This album is better than Rising Tide, but there's still plenty of records that are more fun to listen to than this...
Another nice bluegrass gospel album, with the music in the forefront and a nice set of standards and original tunes that aren't too in-your-face about the religious message. Nice melodic approach, and plenty of solid picking.
Outstanding harmony vocal-based melodic bluegrass, the kinda stuff they called "progressive" bluegrass back in the '70s, but taken here to an exquisite height. This would be an easy album to miss, what with the generic album art and all, but if you like really, really good bluegrass, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. Amid a flood of hot, but too-perfect superpicker albums, these guys dig down deep into what I, for one, like best about bluegrass, and that's sweet singing and telling a story with honesty and direct emotional presence. The band comes, not surprisingly, from the remnants of the last lineup of the Country Gentlemen, but various members have also kicked around in other top-flight bands. The leading force seems to be guitarist-vocalist Greg Luck, though there are also some other stunning contributions, notably from banjoist Greg Corbutt and Jaret Carter on res-guitar, who both chime in with some gorgeous melodic runs. There's a softness to this album that's a welcome relief from the driving, diamond-hard production style that so many bands seem to favor nowadays. Which isn't to say that this is a wimpy album, or anything -- hardly. Indeed, this is one of the best 'grass albums I've heard in the last few years. Looking forward to the follow-up!
Vassar Clements/Various Artists "Hillbilly Jazz" (Flying Fish, 1975)
A cheerful, but kinda slick, set of mostly-instrumental grass-country jazz crossovers, mixing big band standards with Bob Wills western swing oldies. Fiddler Vassar Clements helmed this good-natured outing, along with David Bromberg on guitar, and several other likeminded pals. I find this disc to be a bit sedate, but for the time mixing bluegrass and jazz was probably pretty "out there..." Smooth sailing, with a nice, relaxed feel; may be a little sugary in retrospect.
This is meant to be a return-to-roots outing, with the bluegrass picking taking center stage, but Vassar's jazzy leanings don't take too long to assert themselves, and the pedal steel and piano on some tracks tend to pull this production in different directions, giving it a slightly wobbly feel... Still, with Bobby Osborne on board, there's a nice connection to old-school 'grass (including a perfunctory version of "Rocky Top") and while this album never quite catches fire, it's a nice reminder of how eclectic the '70s acoustic scene was and it's got a pleasant, lively feel. Future klezmer king Andy Statman is also on board, providing some concise mandolin licks throughout, and the fiddling is, of course, pretty sweet. Apparently this set was recorded on election day, 1976, which helps explain the updated version of "White House Blues," with topical lyrics about Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon... The tune is too rushed and manic to really make much impact, but it's still an interesting historical curio. Overall this album is okay, but not great... Worth checking out if you're on a Clements kick...
Vassar Clements "Vassar's Jazz" (Winter Harvest, 1996)
Yeex. Newgrass old-timer Vassar Clements fronts a glossy, truly outlandish set of pop-jazz-grass crossover tunes. Some pretty cheesy instrumentation, particularly the plinky, MIDI-ish keyboards. It's always nice to hear his fiddle, but... um... honestly? You can skip this one.
A blistering fiddle-and-banjo-led set, with that bite and bounce that seems to missing in many of the too-smooth albums of today. This disc is a delight... I also enjoy the vocals, which have an offhand, squaredance-ish feel which signals that as an artist Cleveland isn't too stuffy or self-important. It's the music that matters, and the music is good... mighty good!
A lively, often dazzling set of mostly-instrumental duets by these two bluegrass virtuosi, zipping their way through around two dozen tunes, most of 'em played at a lightning pace on fiddle and banjo. The vocal material is nice, too -- in fact, an album highlight comes when Tom Adams flubs the lyrics on "Shady Grove," and improvises with the inspired line, "Blah, blah, blah..." Nice to sometimes see a few cracks in the super-musicianship of the bluegrass upper crust. And a good sense of humor!
Bluegrass Albums - More Letter "C"
Hick Music Index