Baltic Crossing, The Tune Machine

This disc is an absolute, unbridled joy. Five musicians—two Finns, two Danes and one Brit—use the instruments and music of Scandinavia to, as far as I can tell, have about the best possible time you can ever think of having. A fair amount of traditional music, including jigs, polkas, fiddle tunes—there’s even a Schottische inContinue reading “Baltic Crossing, The Tune Machine”

Interview with Sarah Jarosz

(KDHX) When she was 16, Sarah Jarosz came into the acoustic-music scene seemingly fully formed. She has continued to demand and hold our attention ever since. On her latest album, “Build Me Up from Bones,” Jarosz’s material is less guarded, and therefore more adult, though her writing and her delivery have always been astonishing, and not only becauseContinue reading “Interview with Sarah Jarosz”

Mac Wiseman, Songs from my Mother’s Hand

(For HVBA) This is the first thing that anyone will know about this album, so I’ll get it out of the way: Mac Wiseman is 89 years old. He’s old, even for bluegrass. In pop music terms, he’s ancient. There aren’t any pop musicians that we’ll be listening to when they are 89. Age canContinue reading “Mac Wiseman, Songs from my Mother’s Hand”

Writing about music

“It’s about us. Art doesn’t change, we do.” –Peter Schjeldahl Whenever we think of critical writing about music, from capsule album reviews on up, it’s hard not to recall that quote—apparently it remains a mystery as to who said it first—that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. The suggestion is that the valueContinue reading “Writing about music”

Silent Bear’s “The Green Lion”

I once heard someone saying that, given the ubiquity of 70s ranch-style housing, Frank Lloyd Wright had a lot to answer for. He was the source, and a very affective one, of a revisioning of domestic architecture. And while his prairie homes look as lively and affective today as they did when they were made,Continue reading “Silent Bear’s “The Green Lion””

The Tao of Peter Rowan

If you are a glass-half-empty kind of person, then this new documentary of Peter Rowan, titled The Tao of Peter Rowan, will seem like  a half-empty glass. The photography and sound are at times a bit south of polished, the lighting of some of the shots—such as the interview segments with Ricky Skaggs—could and shouldContinue reading “The Tao of Peter Rowan”

Fleck and Washburn

(for Sing Out!) When I first heard that Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn had married I thought it was a joke, though that was in part because of the source of the news. The “Bluegrass Intelligencer,” a satire web magazine, ran the story under the headline “Strategic marriage will consolidate power within single banjo sovereignty:Continue reading “Fleck and Washburn”

Seamons and Hunter, “Take Yo Time”

(For Sing Out! magazine) For anyone who has learned to play an instrument in the usual way – lessons, scales, exercises, practice, recitals – Joe Seamons can make you feel like you’ve missed something. He grew up in a rural setting in the Pacific Northwest in a log cabin that his parents built. There heContinue reading “Seamons and Hunter, “Take Yo Time””

Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein, “If I had a Boat”

Bob Snider is a musician you’ve never heard of, though nevertheless he has spent his life in music, playing in the streets of Toronto and in folk clubs across Canada. He’s also written two books on performing and songwriting, and they draw from his long experience reaching audiences. There is a lot of wisdom inContinue reading “Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein, “If I had a Boat””

The Duhks, “Beyond the Blue”

(KDHX) When the Duhks first came on the scene in 2001 they were, right off the mark, as challenging as they were entertaining, and as infectious as they were affecting. Jessee Havey’s voice was the band in a nutshell: soulful, though not typically so, and able to add depth to material that in other handsContinue reading “The Duhks, “Beyond the Blue””

Michael Cleveland, “On Down the Line”

(KDHX) Sometimes fiddle players can be hard to get a handle on, if only because it’s a kind of music making that we are less familiar with than, say, guitar. On this album as on all the albums Cleveland has made, it may not be obvious why he gets lead billing: he doesn’t sing, orContinue reading “Michael Cleveland, “On Down the Line””

Willie Watson, Folksinger

(Penguin Eggs issue #63) The jacket design of Willie Watson’s “Folk Singer Vol. 1” is pure pre-folk-boom camp: he’s got a pipe, and the presentation is sparse to look like a Lomax field recording from the period. “Vol. 1”(I actually think it’s a feint here, and I’ll be surprised if there is ever a Vol.Continue reading “Willie Watson, Folksinger”

Is there such a thing as a perfect album?

(Penguin Eggs issue #63) Is there such a thing as a perfect album? Of course we don’t think of art in those terms, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. There are works of art that feel perfect, such as Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Greg Foley’s Thank You Bear, two children’s books that areContinue reading “Is there such a thing as a perfect album?”

Williams, Crowe, Lawson, “Standing Tall and Tough”

(for HVBA) In the liner notes to Standing Tall and Tough, Paul Williams notes “How amazing is it that three guys on Medicare can still be onstage performing this great American music called bluegrass?” It’s a comment, at least on the face of it, on the fact that they’re still standing, or some variant of that,Continue reading “Williams, Crowe, Lawson, “Standing Tall and Tough””

Michael Barnett’s “One Song Romance”

Michael Barnett is a fiddler who, while young, has done a lot. He’s a prodigy, more or less, becoming a sought after teacher and session musician at a very young age. He was a member of the David Grisman Sextet, and otherwise has turned the ear of a who’s who of acoustic music. The albumContinue reading “Michael Barnett’s “One Song Romance””

Mike Scott’s, “The Old Country Church”

(HVBA) Mike Scott is one of those guys who has a thousand-watt smile—his album covers look like ads for dental work—and always seem to be selling something. Indeed, what he is selling is himself and his ability to do so is prodigious. There are a lot of great banjo players out there, though of courseContinue reading “Mike Scott’s, “The Old Country Church””

Larry Sparks’ “Lonesome and Then Some”

One of the great things about bluegrass is that it has a memory. People who played then are celebrated now, and the music that was made then is still relevant now. And people like Larry Sparks provide some proof of that. His first real gig was playing guitar for Ralph Stanley in 1966 after theContinue reading “Larry Sparks’ “Lonesome and Then Some””

Nickel Creek’s “A Dotted Line”

(for KDHX) After seven years apart, Nickel Creek is back with “A Dotted Line.” As in the early part of their career together, Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins are doing things that no one else is doing while serving an audience that is interested in picking up the Nickel Creek story where itContinue reading “Nickel Creek’s “A Dotted Line””

Interview with Eric Gibson of the Gibson Brothers

I reached Eric by phone while he was on the road travelling south for a few dates in Florida. I asked him about his (relatively) new Henderson guitar, brother duets, and life on the road. Always gracious, Eric is as delightful off stage as he is on it. GH: How did you get turned onContinue reading “Interview with Eric Gibson of the Gibson Brothers”

A dissapointing disc from Volume 5

I saw Volume 5 at Merlefest and was immediately struck that I hadn’t of heard them before. Great musicians, very nice presentation, and some great story songs and ballads—a very complete package all around. But (you could sense this coming, couldn’t you) this album, The Day We Learn to Fly is a bit of a departure forContinue reading “A dissapointing disc from Volume 5”

“White Wave Chapel” from I Draw Slow

There is an interesting moment in a recent interview with Dave Holden, guitarist of the Irish band I Draw Slow, when he notes that in America their music is described as Irish, and in Ireland, it’s American. The problem might simply be in knowing too much; the band may be from Ireland, but this isContinue reading ““White Wave Chapel” from I Draw Slow”

Marah presents Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania

(for Penguin Eggs magazine) Were you to hold a copy of this CD in your hands this is what you’d be thinking: What the $#$*% is this? And you’d be warranted in that thought. I’ll venture a provisional and entirely gracious answer: it’s a dog’s breakfast. If there is any interest in this recording atContinue reading “Marah presents Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania”

Where old-time becomes new again

(for KDHX) Darol Anger is one of the most skilled fiddlers working today. He is interested in taking the instrument into new places, though he’s not interested in developing an entirely new vocabulary for the instrument, and I think that’s an important distinction. While some musicians find innovation in doing things that are drastically removedContinue reading “Where old-time becomes new again”

Revisiting the Fold

Carlene Carter, “Carter Girl” Rounder Records (for HVBA) I have an unerring fascination with the Carter Family—or more precisely the Original Carter Family—because everything about their professional lives as musicians (or “musicianers” as AP would say) is as exotic as it is unfathomable. We all know at least the outline of the story: AP hearsContinue reading “Revisiting the Fold”

Special Consensus, “Country Boy”

(For HVBA) About a year ago, a tribute album to John Denver was released which was, in a word, awful. I reviewed it for KDHX radio, which was kind of fun, actually, given that you rarely get the chance to review something that offers itself up so completely to unequivocal derision. I know that it’s notContinue reading “Special Consensus, “Country Boy””

Tony Trischka’s “Great Big World”

(For KDHX) I wanted to love this album, and I’m having a hard time with it even now, because saying something negative about it is akin to sacrilege. Trischka has always been the focus of a lot of praise, and the liner notes by Bela Fleck that accompany this disc continue in that vein. ForContinue reading “Tony Trischka’s “Great Big World””

Rhonda Vincent, “Only Me”

(For HVBA) I was once helping with a satellite feed of the Kruger Brothers early one morning at Merlefest—the local television station was airing live segments from a hill overlooking the festival grounds—and Rhonda Vincent was the next up. The only problem was that her bus driver had gotten lost and wasn’t answering the phone. AllContinue reading “Rhonda Vincent, “Only Me””

Blue Highway, “The Game”

(for KDHX) I think every bluegrass band could take a lesson from Blue Highway, and here’s why I think that is: they put the content, and the storytelling, before everything else. And, frankly, storytelling is what this kind of music, if not every kind of music, is really all about. At least I think so, andContinue reading “Blue Highway, “The Game””

The Grascals, “When I Get My Pay”

The Grascals are as capable as any bluegrass band out there these days. They know what they are doing, and they are doing it well. They were the IBMA emerging artists of the year in 2005, they’ve played the Opry, and otherwise spent their time polishing the ensemble and their writing. When I Get MyContinue reading “The Grascals, “When I Get My Pay””

O’Brien and Scott’s “Memories and Moments”

(for KDHX) The thing about Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott is that each project comes with the feeling that you’re joining a show already in progress. That’s true of their latest studio release, Memories and Moments, which comes a full decade after their first. Like everything they’ve done, it’s quirky, adept, interesting, intelligent and entirelyContinue reading “O’Brien and Scott’s “Memories and Moments””

Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe

(for KDHX) I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love everything about this album. The only way to make it any better would be to have it autographed. The art, the concept, the musicians, the arrangements, the production—in any way you care to look at it, Noam Pikelny’s latest release, NoamContinue reading “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe”

The Definitive Doc Watson

(HVBA) You can be forgiven for thinking, “Do we really need another collection of Doc Watson recordings?” When I heard of this release, that’s what I thought. My initial impression was that Sugar Hill was just releasing something in order to drum up some sales in light of Watson’s passing in May of last year.Continue reading “The Definitive Doc Watson”

Don Rigsby’s “Doctor’s Orders”

(HVBA) Don Rigsby has been around a while, and as such he always seems to be there, not too far away. Many probably came across him for the first time in the movie Bluegrass Journey where he’s onstage with the Lonesome River band (in what some consider their best line up) at the IBMA’s andContinue reading “Don Rigsby’s “Doctor’s Orders””

Adam Steffey’s “New Primitive”

(HVBA) The first track on Adam Steffey’s new album New Primitive opens with a pop music flourish of a kind that you don’t typically find on oldtime albums. It’s a statement that this isn’t just another album of traditional tunes. And, certainly, it isn’t. It’s his third solo project and one that Steffey says he’sContinue reading “Adam Steffey’s “New Primitive””

Ron Block’s “Walking Song”

(HVBA) Listening to this disc, I wished that I had no idea who Ron Block is or any of the things he’s done in his career. By any measure, he’s done a lot, most notably as a member of Alison Krauss and Union Station for twenty years. On his own, he’s released two collections priorContinue reading “Ron Block’s “Walking Song””

“Tell the Ones I Love” by the Steep Canyon Rangers

(HVBA) Culturally, we seem to like the idea of the struggling artist, someone who suffers for their work and who’s work seems to benefit from the struggle that goes into it. Would we revere people like Hemingway, for example, if their lives were idyllic and the only drama was in the pages of their books.Continue reading ““Tell the Ones I Love” by the Steep Canyon Rangers”

The Spinney Brothers’ “No Borders”

(HVBA) Dick Bowden recently wrote a compelling cover story about the Spinney Brothers for Bluegrass Unlimited. Titled “On the road with the Spinney Brothers” (April, 2013) Bowden gives an account of one leg of the Spinney Brothers’ summer 2012 tour, following the band from the moment they leave the Bluegrass in the Hills festival inContinue reading “The Spinney Brothers’ “No Borders””