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 "P"
Bandleader David Parmley (who, it must be said, bears an astonishing likeness to President Bill Clinton...) has such a plainspoken, almost conversational vocal style that some listeners might find his unappealing... But it'll grow on you, as you settle into the band's brisk, no-frills, all-roots approach. Continental Divide follows in the tradition of folk-grass bands like the Seldom Scene, combining country heartsongs and perky grassy picking, with songs from the likes of Merle Haggard and Lefty Frizzell alongside new originals by the likes of Randall Hylton and the band's (rather classy) banjo picker, Elmer Burchett, Jr. Heck, any bluegrass band that'll cover Lefty Frizzell's "I Never Go Around Mirrors" has got my vote! This is mighty fine stuff, well worth checking out.
Another fine, fine album by Parmely and his crew. The songs are mostly of a more modern vintage, spanning from some old Flatt & Scruggs tunes to grassified version of commercial country tunes by the likes of Keith Stegall and Merle Haggard. Parmley's voice gathers force as it goes along, like a snowball rolling downhill, and by the time you hit Haggard's "Wake Up," and the fine title track, written by bass player Danny Barnes' dad, you oughtta be completely won over. Fine sentimental, heartfelt material... recommended!!
A nice, sweet, low-key set of gospel songs and philosophical tunes reflecting on the shadows of life, as the daylight dims. The "and friends" include Ronnie and Del McCoury, Aubrey Haynie and others. Nice, thoughtful album, with first-rate pickin' to back it up.
Gram Parsons & The Shilohs "The Early Years: 1963-1965" (Sierra Briar)
The great patron saint of the country-rock/alt.country scene, cosmic cowboy Gram Parsons dabbled early on with folk and bluegrass, dutifully exploring the Appalachian ballads and various murder ballads. Although a little more vigorous and driving than many other earnest early-'60s folkies, this band was not, really, that remarkable. It's true that even this early on you can hear Gram pushing towards his future sound, but only if you listen really, really attentively; better to check back with him when his country vibe kicked in.
(Produced by John Carter Cash)
Slowly but surely the Peasall Sisters -- Hannah, Leah and Sarah -- are staking out their claim as mature musicians, and breaking free of the awwww, ain't dat cute! novelty of their pre-teen celebrity. First heard as the voices behind a trio of moppets harmonizing sweetly in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou, the Peasalls soon found themselves caught up in the pro-bluegrass hysteria that accompanied the film's phenomenal soundtrack sales. The cutesy factor is still intact, but on the opening tracks of their second album, the Peasalls display a bit more weight and grit than on their first disc, which seemed rather a bit contrived and orchestrated by the adult artists guiding their careers. There's still some of sense that here, but their strengths have solidified, and there's a growing sense that these gals could really become significant stylists someday. However, a little deeper into the album the production meanders and loses focus, and the material starts to seems a bit ephemeral and slight. It'll be interesting to see where they go from here -- will their third album be more consistent and sustained than the ones that came before it? Well, let's hope so! The good songs on here are pretty tantalizing.
Bay Area old-timey elder Jody Stecher, Chris Brashear and some stringband pals zip through this tasty set of old-timey and bluegrass tunes, with plenty of traditional and public domain material, as well as several excellent new tunes written by Brashear, as well as fellow strangers Peter McLaughlin and Bob Black. Sometimes they're a bit odd and off-kilter (on purpose, in that unruly, old-timey way) but mostly this is sweet and straightforward. Fans of the style will enjoy this a lot.
David Peterson & 1946 "David Peterson & 1946" (Self-released, 2001)
These fellows from Tennessee hit the nail on the head with their homage to the postwar heyday of classic bluegrass. The material is all oldies from elders such as Bill, Lester, Ralph and Carter, as well as blue yodel or two and some nice original material. The picking's solid, too... Seems like there are an awful lot of great bluegrass bands out there, and these fellows are as good as any of 'em. Nice traditionalist mountain music.
David Peterson & 1946 "The Howling Blue Winds" (Self-released)
David Peterson & 1946 "In The Mountaintops To Roam" (Echomusic, 2005)
Pleasant, plain newgrass instrumentals featuring Leftover Salmon's banjoist, joined by Matt Flinner on mandolin, David Grier on guitar, Gabe Witcher (fiddle) and Todd Phillips (bass.) It's easygoing stuff, not particularly challenging, but also not a crossover-y fusionfest. It's pretty straightforward and pretty nice to listen to.
This fascinating 3-CD set sheds light on the career of country music pioneer Charlie Poole, whose Depression-era recordings helped set the standard for the energy level and professionalism of the new musical style, and who recorded many songs that became hillbilly standards for decades to some. This set is unusual, however, in that it spotlights not only Poole's work, but the recordings of several of his contemporaries, rivals and imitators in the 1920s and '30s, artists such as Arthur Collins, Kelly Harrell, Uncle Dave Macon, Ford Van Eps, and numerous craggy old-time stringbands from the pre-bluegrass, pre-swing, pre-honkytonk era. There's plenty of homespun humor, salty raunchiness, bluesy twang and several dazzling tracks, including whizbang instrumentals like Dave Macon's amazing "Uncle Dave's Beloved Solo." Poole emerges as an immensely charismatic figure, and hearing him in the full context of his times is a treat. If you just want to hear Poole by himself, the old anthologies on the County label will do ya right, but this is a fun, well-thought out collection... Recommended!
A nice set of reconstructed traditional mountain music, with old reels and gospel tunes, with all three of the headliners switching off on various instruments -- banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar -- and several notable guest performers such as Ron McCoury, Mollie O'Brien, Pete Wernick and Andrea Zonn pitching in on several songs. It's a nice, mellow, lulling set, and deeply, deeply traditional as well. Recommended!
A fine, old-timey tinged album by this youthful traditionalist... Many songs on this set are actually a bit bouncier and more "bluegrass" than some of Powell's later work, although many of the vocal numbers featuring Ginny Hawker (about half the album) have a decidedly stark feel to them. Nice stuff, from start to finish!
An exemplary set of oldtime-ish mountain music, Appalachian tunes played informally and with a relaxed warmth that takes off much of the edge that many contemporary old-timey revivalists have adopted as a badge of honor. Powell's approach is accessible and inclusive: there's no denying the authenticity of these songs, yet listeners who are apprehensive towards or new to the genre won't have to push past abrasive antonalities or shrillness in order to appreciate the music's depth. Doubtless there are crusty purists out there who will grumble about Powell "softening" the music, but there's an equally strong argument to be made that this music was originally intended as entertainment, and that clinging to dissonance as a litmus test of purity is just a form of snobbishness and exclusion. Obviously, there's room for both approaches: I like hyperpurist old-timey music when I'm in the mood, but it's also nice to be able to put on a record or two that friends can listen to as well. Along with a sweet set of traditional tunes and original compositions, this disc is peppered with home recordings of Powell and his maternal grandfather, James Clarence Hay, picking and reminiscing together in 1990. Just the right touch to anchor this album is the past, while personalizing Powell's deep connections to his Kentucky roots.
James Price "Southern Flavor" (Freeland, 1998)
James Price "Fiddlin' The Old-Time Way" (Rebel, 2003)
Ralph Stanley's long-time fiddler saws away on a fine set of bluegrass standards and traditional tunes. Other Clinch Mountain pals are along for the ride, including guitarist James Alan Shelton and Ralph Jr. Some of the slower tunes are a bit sleepy, but the faster tracks are pretty dazzling. Indeed, Price brings such a sweetness to the livelier hoedown numbers that makes the slower sets almost unnecessary. Nice stuff.
Psychograss "Like Minds" (Windham Hill, 1993)
Psychograss "Like Minds" (Sugar Hill, 1996)
The epitome of overly-clever, high-concept newgrass superpicking, featuring several members of the old "spacegrass" contingent and their pals... Fiddler Darol Anger, mandolin whiz Mike Marshall, bassist Todd Phillips, Tony Trischka on banjo and David Grier pickin' the old six-string. They run through a lot of familiar territory: lofty instrumentals that build and swell, playful, jazzy twists on old 'grass formulas and sidelong drifts into chamber music stylings, messed-up meters and all that kinda jam-bandy stuff. Most of the material is original, except for a Jimi Hendrix cover ("3rd Stone From The Sun") which is predictably (and intentionally) a bit wanky and over the top. The songs generally slide between polished virtuosity and show-offy interludes that border on tedium. If you like this sort of thing for its sheer musicianship, this disc will not disappoint, but the tunes are so obtrusively kooky that I find it hard to imagine most folks going back to it for more than a couple of listens.
No surprises here, but plenty of solid jazz-grass virtuosic superpicking from Marshall, Grier, Trischka, Phillips and Anger... These guys have been playing together for years and they get some nice grooves going both on the slower, more down-home stuff that starts the album, and the more jagged, chops-heavy jazz that comes towards the end. It's not totally my cup of tea, but if you're a fan of the whole spacegrass sound, this album definitely will not disappoint. Worth checking out.
Bluegrass Albums - Letter "Q"
Hick Music Index