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 page covers the letter "T"
Barry & Holly Tashian -- see artist discography
Tasty Licks "Tasty Licks" (Rounder, 1978)
The early works of banjoist Bela Fleck find him listed as "the third lead instrument" in this zippy ensemble, backing mandolinist/vocalist Jack Tottle in an ambitious set of innovative progressive 'grass... The band's name isn't just a cute, coy pun, it's also a declaration of bragging rights: the aggressive jazz-pop-grass fusion that would make Fleck famous is hinted at here in the complexified harmonies and rhythmic twists, piled atop a relatively traditional set of truegrass tunes. Tottle's voice doesn't do much for me, but the approach is definitely creative and new...After a while, it starts sounding a little too clever, but you have to give them credit for their groundbreaking approach. Also, this is relatively restrained, a midway point between the folk-tinged work of earlier bands such as the Country Gentlemen, et al, and the more panoramic explorations of David Grisman and his jazzed-up "spacegrass" crew. Fans of Fleck will want to check out these formative recordings, while regular old 'grass fans will be able to groove on it as well... And, yeah, there's some sweet picking on here, too!
Tasty Licks "Tasty Licks" (Rounder, 1978)
The second album by this much-vaunted band... After this, Fleck formed Spectrum with Jimmy Gaudreau, and then moved into a gig with the New Grass Revival...
Team Flathead "The Huber Banjo Sessions" (Huber Banjos, 2003)
A hotshot 4- and 5-string plunkfest featuring Jim Mills, Sammy Shelor, Ron Stewart, Alan Bibey and other first-rate banjer pickers, along with artisan/businessman Steve Huber, who bankrolled this album to showcase the fruits of his labors. Yes, the album is a promotional vehicle, but it's also got some mighty fine pickin' on it, too. (Not sure where you'd pick it up at, though: I think you have to get it straight from Huber Banjos, at huberbanjos.com...)
The Thacker/Blankenship Band "Tennessee Blues" (Copper Creek, 2002)
With Ernie Thacker and Junior Blankenship...
Ernie Thacker "The Chill Of Lonesome" (Doobie Shea, 2002)
A former member of Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys, Ernie Thacker breaks out solo with a nice mix of truegrass and old-school country, an album marked by sharp production, bright, lively picking and soulful group vocals. On a few tracks, the songwriting may be a little too lofty and ornate, but other tracks moe than make up for it... The album starts off on a strong religious note (which could be a turnoff; I like a lot of bluegrass gospel, but thought that this somehow had more of a contemporary Christian slant, almost...) The secular side kicks in quickly, though, and these songs are smpler and more fun, particularly "Another Piece Of My Heart" and "Highway Of Sorrow," both of which sounds like something Jimmy Martin might have recorded back in his prime... Not bad! If you like the recent Karl Shiflett albums, then this is certainly worth checking out as well.
Chris Thile "Leading Off..." (Sugar Hill, 1994)
Chris Thile "Stealing Second" (Sugar Hill, 1997)
Chris Thile "Not All Who Wander Are Lost" (Sugar Hill, 2001)
Newgrass forefather Mike Marshall teams up with fusion-grass idol, Nickle Creek's Chris Thile, in a slam-bang set of flashy mandolin duets. For both artists, it's a nice return to a simpler approach, shorn of glitzy arrangements or iffy pop production... Sure, many of these songs go off on excessive, classical- and jazz-inspired tangents, but at least you get the feel that these guys are connecting as actual musicians, not just as play actors in some prepackaged studio outing, and really playing with the form. Not entirely my cup of tea, but for new acoustic fans, this is a record well worth checking out.
Chris Thile "Deceiver" (Sugar Hill, 2004)
...uh... what a weird album title... Anyway, this album is a quite unexpected and welcome surprise -- not being a big Nickel Creek fan, I wasn't expecting much, but I loaded it into the Cd deck and when the disc came on right after some traditional bluegrass album I had on before it, I actually didn't realize the record had changed until about halfway through the Thile set. Although the songwriting is modern, the picking is crisp and pleasantly rootsy, some of the twangiest stuff Thile's done in some time. He's still working in a nontraditional mode, but wearing it less on his sleeve musically and being far less pretentious about it... Some of the songs are kind of strange, but in a good way, and nothing was unpleasant to my highly-critical, trad-oriented ear. I'm almost shocked to say it, but I could actually see myself coming back to this album for some time to come. It's mellow, but not goopy, and pretty darn interesting, too. You might wanna check it out.
IIIrd Tyme Out "Letter To Home" (Rounder, 1995)
Yet another solid album from this near-supergroup. A little too self-assured and professional for my tastes; perhaps also a bit too country-ish, in a sentimental, Vince Gill-ish kinda way. Slick, but still good.
IIIrd Tyme Out "John & Mary" (Rounder, 1999)
Another nice, nearly flawless set, emphasizing sweet-sounding heart songs, with a trace of hot picking and mountain gospel thrown in for good measure. Nice sentimental stuff!
IIIrd Tyme Out "Back To The MAC" (Rounder, 2001)
A solid, if almost overly-professional, concert album by this fine traditionally-oriented bluegrass ensemble. Nice mix of fancy playing and sweet vocals, with an emphasis on good old-fashioned heart songs.
IIIrd Tyme Out "Singing On Streets Of Gold" (Chateau Music Group, 2002)
A sweet stunner of a gospel album that cruises right into the path of the "southern gospel" crowd. This set probably won't please their truegrass fan base as much as other albums, but it's still pretty solid.... Not that their secular stuff is bad, but I guess there are just some folks who are at their best doing religious material... It's just were their hearts are at. Anyway, this is a nice mix of tight, smooth harmony vocals and flawless picking. Maybe a smidge less perfect and more exciting than their non-gospel material tends to be. Highly recommended indie release!
IIIrd Tyme Out "The Best Durn Ride" (Chateau Music Group, 2004)
I'm not sure what's going on here... They've sure mellowed out a lot, and slowed down their sound, and seem to be taking things really, really easy. Whether there's enough vim and vigor here for the average 'grass fan to sit up and take notice is up to question. This is sweet stuff, but a little sleepy.
The band's third live album recorded at the Mountain Arts Center is another rock-solid set of note-perfect, professionally delivered, high-lonesome truegrass. I know some people find these guys to be a little too slick or flawless, but ya gotta admit, this record is played with passion and intensity. Songs by Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers are mixed in with some swell gospel, a new Tom T. Hall tune, a couple by Bill Castle and a few other interesting choices... Good vocals and kickass pickin' -- what more could ya want?
This is some mighty fine fiddle music, representing the true, authentic regional styles that Thomasson -- an old-timer himself -- grew up with in a lifetime of Texas dancehalls and front porch jam sessions. If you like raspy, truly rural fiddle tunes, then this disc is one you'll not want to pass up. Recommended.
Nice stuff from the San Francisco folkie contingent. A relaxed set which ranges from backporch acoustic folk-blues to soft-edged cajun waltzes and a bit of old-timey music thrown in for good measure. Not earthshaking, but that's kinda the point.
A nice, soulful offering from fiddler Suzy Thompson, a veteran of bands as diverse as the Any Old Time String Band, The California Cajun Orchestra and the Klezmorim, whose repertoire ranges from old bluegrass and old-time stringband music to acoustic blues and a touch of klezmer and cajun. She's joined here, on her first solo album, by a talented battery of (mostly) SF Bay Area musicians -- the esteemed Mike Seeger, banjoist Bill Evans, Maria & Geoff Muldaur, Kate Brislin and Jody Stecher, Eric Thompson, bassist Steven Strauss and others. It's a nice, understated set, with plenty of fine performances. Recommended.
Following up on her previous solo album from 2004, veteran Bay Area fiddler Suzy Thompson leaves the 'grass behind and sticks to the blues, cutting loose on this fine live set, with pickin' that leans towards the Delta... It's an open-ended love letter to the folkie/blues in-crowd... Thompson has worn many musical hats over the years, but this disc highlights her at her bluesiest, in sort of a Maria Muldaur mode, backed by longtime partner Eric Thompson and the Thompson String Ticklers... Nice rapport with her hometown crowd, too, down at Berkeley, California's fabled folk club, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.
Well, yes, the title track actually is a cover of the old 1970s Doobie Brothers hit... But let's not hold that against them. (It coulda been worse: they could have done "China Grove"! ) Anyhoo, 3 Fox Drive are a swell progressive bluegrass outfit from upstae New York, bulit around the vocal and instrumental work of Kim, Barb and Joel Fox (on guitar, vocals and banjo, respectively...) These Foxes are continuing the legacy of their earlier band, the Fox Family bluegrass band, which put out a couple of albums in the '90s... This is fine music, with strong picking and innovative, yet solidly rootsy, arrangements... I think most contemporary 'grass fans will enjoy this album quite a bit.. There is an occasional sluggishness to their tempo and meter, but overall, this is pretty nice stuff. Folks who like Alison Krauss, Laurie Lewis and even Dolly Parton's recent acoustic outings will probably want to check this out.
That's Tom Sauber, Brad Leftwich and Alice Gerrard, as venerable a group of old-timey revivalists as you're ever likely to hear. This is the trio's second album (I still haven't tracked down the first), and it's a nice, gangly set of oddly-arranged proto-bluegrass tunes, arranged and performed in a style that takes the music back to its unruly back-woods roots, when song measures and lyrics veered about with wild unpredictability. This album starts out with an unusual version of a familiar folk tune ("The Cuckoo"), forcing you right off the bat to meet these guys on their own terms. But once you settle in on their wavelength, it's a really fun little record. Recommended!
This Oregonian ensemble offers a little something for everyone -- some topical folk tunes, light, swinging bluegrass, deeper roots-rock ala The Band, and even a bit of Celtic fiddling. It's not all dazzling, but the low-key approach works wonders, and the good songs are very good. Also nice is the band's genuine regionalism -- many of their lyrics have to do explicitly with local, Oregon-centric material (including several songs about rainy weather...) A nice, down-to-earth, real folks making real music kinda record.
In case you're tempted to blame Bela Fleck and all those cats from the 1980s onwards for everything that's "gone wrong" with bluegrass, you might want to stretch back a little further and check out these ancient, early '70s recordings by genre-busting newgrass banjo whiz, Tony Trischka. Clearly influenced by Leo Kottke and his irreverent wing of the new acoustic movement, Trischka pushed his solo work way beyond the confines of the relative traditional recordings he'd done with the bands Breakfast Special and Country Cooking. This CD reissues all the material from Tony Trischka's first two solo albums, Bluegrass Light and Heartlands, from 1973 and '75, respectively. It's wild, exuberant stuff, with saxophones, multitracking, outlandish arrangements... you name it. And some of it's really fun. Definitely worth checking out if you're on the instrumental tip, and if you don't mind watching a few rules fly out the window.
A little goofy, slightly over-the-top, but convincing and compelling nonetheless, cornpone without being corny. Leroy Troy is not as old as he sounds, singing in a gravelly, whispered lisp, trotting through a bunch of old-time tunes, but his affectations aren't intrusive, they work pretty well in the context of his tunes. Helped out by a bunch of pickin' pals, including Marty Stuart in a welcome return to his hillbilly roots, this is as much a bluegrass novelty album as it is old-timey, although for folks looking for the old-timey sense of nostalgia without quite as much of the musical severity, this could be a fun record to explore. I liked it.
Two High String Band "Two High String Band" (2000)
A delightfully diverse, lighthearted folkie-bluegrass set, with some old-fashioned, western-themed numbers, straight-up truegrass, Grismanesque instrumentals, and endearing, goofy whimsies such as "You Can't Run Away From Your Feet." I really enjoyed this album a lot... it's one of those records that, somehow, has managed to stay in the CD carousel for several weeks, while others fly through faster than hummingbirds in a honey factory... Why has this one outlasted the rest? I guess it's because of the low-key approach, the obvious sense that these folks had a lot of fun making the record, and the relaxed folkish vibe, which reminds me of Happy Traum's old albums, and the confidence the band has in its own music. There are no paid consultants or marketing geniuses in there, mucking it all up, but they also manage to sidestep most of the cutesy-cloying pitfalls that many modern folkies fall for, maintaining just the right balance of goofiness and rootsiness. Bass player Bryn Bright has made a name for herself recently playing with David Grisman (on the Old & In The Grey album...) He returns the favor playing on a couple of tunes; Vassar Clements also adds a lick or two, but really, this band does fine all by it's lonesome. Recommended!
Two High String Band "Moonshine Boogie" (Blue Corn, 2006)
For a fella who's been backing Alison Krauss up for years, Tyminski sure plays things straight on his solo debut. This fine disc came out at roughly the same time as the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack (which features Tyminski singing the lead on "Man Of Constant Sorrow"...), and shows us all that, yes indeed, this fella's got the real goods. This is a nice set of traditionally oriented tunes, mostly of modern vintage, but firmly rooted in the more melodic end of the old-fashioned truegrass school. A few songs slide into more ornate, slick stuff, but really, this is an album anyone should be happy to own. Besides, anyone who covers the Louvin Brothers' old pal, Eddie Hill ("Tiny Broken Heart"), is alright by me. Recommended!
Bluegrass Albums - Letter "U"
Hick Music Index