Don’t miss the Henhouse Prowlers – Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Troy Elks Lodge $5

Tonight don’t miss the Henhouse Prowlers Live at the Troy Elks Lodge 11pm. They remind me a band from Columbus a while ago… well except that the fiddle player will agree to wear a tie like the rest of the band. This looks like the good stuff.

Young folks writing and performing new original traditional sounding Bluegrass. There was a time when it seemed like bands like these were popping up all over the place, and we were one of them. But now, the furry has died down a bit and I’m realizing just how rare the suit wearing, died in the wool, one microphone working, traditionalists are.

They even have the chicken thing working…

Sad news: Bluegrass loses another great, banjo player Dale Vanderpool, a good friend.

We lost another great one, one of the greats that I was lucky to call a friend.

Dale Vanderpool lost his long battle with cancer last night.

I am eternally grateful for his generosity in taking me under his wing and showing me what REAL bluegrass is all about. I knew I had arrived in the Columbus Bluegrass scene when I got a call from Dale to come over and jam.

I was as nervous as a guy could be to go jam with his crew, but he made feel right at home and we banged out a bunch of great tunes. Like in golf you tend to play up (or down) to the level of those around you they all elevated me to a new level entirely. After a few living room jams he asked me to play in his band at a few shows, and he didn’t ask many people to do that, so I was stoked. That’s when I knew had really gone from a parking lot picker to a stage dwelling, card carrying member of the Bluegrass Police.

Dale was generous, kind, humble, opinionated, sharp witted, quiet, and note perfect – pretty much all the time. Dale was Dale for every person, no matter who you were.

One time, an older lady walked in the Bluegrass shop where Dale worked carrying a 1930s Gisbon Granada Banjo worth more than most people’s houses and did Dale ask to buy for a few thousand doallrs, which the lady would have been happy with? No, he told her it’s real value and helped her get a life-altering amount of money for it.

Another time I was hanging out in the shop when George Clinton walked in. Yes, that George Clinton, the one from P-funk… yeah. It was only slightly awkward, but Dale was a cool as he was to any hardcore Bluegrasser and we laughed and joked and had a really nice time talking to George about music.

Here’s a good video of Dale playing Train 45 with Don Rigsby and JD Crowe among others. Dale takes the second banjo break. He makes that shit look so effortless… we should all add a little bit of that to our style.

Please keep Anita, and his whole family in your prayers.

For a trip back in time to July 14th, 2009, the first post on this blog featured me playing a show with Mr Vanderpool.

Bill Evans’s new album in “In Good Company” is one of the best and most surprising albums I’ve heard in a long time.

Every once in a while I’m just totally blown away by an album. I’ve heard and played A LOT of bluegrass. It takes quite a bit to blow me away these days. I’m not saying I’m the Bluegrass Police or an old, grumpy picker who hates anything made after 1960, but I’m getting there.

That being said, this morning I was totally blown away when I popped in the new Bill Evans album “In Good Company” for the morning commute.

From the first note it manages to strike the perfect balance of new grass mellowness, taste and restraint with solid traditional  Bluegrass drive. It’s dry but with a hint of moistened reverb, clean with specks of dust, edgy when it needs to be but traditional in just the right spots without ever being cliché or ironic. (Thank the lord, because I’m really getting sick of ironic)

Honestly, I try to take an open minded approach to these things and listen without any pre-conceived notions, so going in to this I had no idea what this album was all about. But when I got to the office I opened up the liner notes to find out it’s a smorgasbord of bluegrass deliciousness. I then understood EXACTLY why I thought it was SOOO good. Check out the listing of contributors…

Bill Evans with The Infamous Stringdusters, Tim O’Brien, Joy Kills Sorrow, Darol Anger, Cindy Browne Rosefield, Tashina & Tristan Clarridge, Stuart Duncan, Corey Evans, Matt Flinner, David Grier, Rob Ickes, Dominic Leslie, Laurie Lewis, Ned Luberecki, Mike Marshall, Todd Phillips and Missy Raines. Produced by Bill Evans, Stephen Mougin, Darol Anger & Tom Size.

Good grief if you can’t make a killer album with that line up, you need think about doing something else. That being said it even exceeds the sum of it parts by an order of magnitude. Bill Evans really has put a good one together.

The first track called the “The Distance Between Two Points” starts it off perfectly and from there it was a joy to listen to all the way through. From the first note you can tell it’s a technical masterpiece where every note is placed with perfection and care. It’s not just the musicianship that stands out either.

The engineering and production values are off the chart AMAZING! The complexity and space surrounding the instruments is phenomenal. There is serious subtly in the bass tone.The woodyness of each instrument comes through in all it’s sparkling glory. It’s a rare beast indeed that brings this kind of complexity to the table without becoming too tedious, wonky, over-complicated or esoteric. This album has NONE of that, and for that, it’s a breath of fresh air to be sure.

It also manages to hang together as a cohesive idea too, which is rare on these all-star projects. Sometimes these kinds of albums can fall apart and turn into a few decent tracks with some filler. However “In Good Company” manages to maintain a solid feel and vibe that is consistent through out the entire length of the record. It has a nice change of pace and mix of feels but at the same a uniformity that seems to be elusive in today’s scatterbrained culture. I love that!

This is an album that should have a place in every Bluegrass fan’s shelf, it’s the work of a master and his good company.

Tim Carter pays tribute to the legendary Earl Scruggs with an original Waltz and video montage, worth every second.

Some years ago I did the album cover and layout work for Tim Carter’s solo album Bang Bang, as well as the logo for his record company and recording studio Tree-O-Records in Goodlettsville TN. He has good tunes on the record and the studio has some great talent working there all there time. Tim is also a Fly Fisherman, and I mentioned him in my article for Gray’s Sporting Journal last year, so he has a special place in the heart of the Fiddle and Creel Hall of Fame.

I haven’t mentioned much about the legendary Earl Scruggs’s passing, mainly because there just wasn’t much for me to contribute that hadn’t already been said. Everytime I’d start to type something, I’d get so bummed out, I’d just delete the shit.

Tim posted an amazing tribute to Earl this week and I am VERY pleased to share it here. It’s a somber number, from a friend in Bluegrass, about a friend in Bluegrass. Enjoy!

Tim and his brother Danny will be performing at the Hog’s Breath Saloon in KW starting June 25th so if you’re down there on the tail end of the Tarpon migration, or you’re chasing bones or otherwise in need of good old fashioned banjo blitzing, go see them! They are well worth the price of admission, you will not be disappointed. Tim also plays the heck out of a mandolin too.

Is Steve Martin really good for Bluegrass?

A real royalty check? Perhaps.

Via the always informative Bluegrass blog, comes news of a hilarious post over on SteveMartin.com showing what he supposes are real royalty checks from his agency. Of course these are occomapnied by a one liner claiming the music industry is dead?

Funny stuff.

But thats not what is bothering me about the whole Steve Martin in Bluegrass thing.

I’ve been pondering this for a while. I’ve seen the viral video of his rendition of the athiest gospel song at Merlefest (See Below). Its cute and well executed. I know he tours with the Steep Canyon Rangers, and they are good, and probably a very entertaining show.

But is Steve Martin really good for Bluegrass? I’m not so sure.

He is a legit student of the banjo. And like any good student of the banjo he idolizes and has preformed with Earl. So thats cool.

But, and its a big BUT, he brings a certain SCHTICK, that most of the Bluegrass world has been trying to LIVE DOWN its entire existence.

Bill Monroe wanted to put a suit and tie on the country music that most of America looked down upon. His goal was to elevate it to an artform, and gain respect from musical world at large.  This is what led acts like Doyle Lawson and Quicksliver to have clauses in their contracts that state something like, “will NEVER play in front of Hay Bales, in a BARN or in Overalls.”

To that end, I think part of what ticked off old Bill so much was Lester and Earl showing up on the Beverly Hillbillies and Hee-Haw, because it reinforced the aspects of the music that Bill was trying to move away from. And in some strange way Steve Martin’s comedy is no different.  It somehow ends up being a detriment to those of us who take Bluegrass a small bit more seriously than the average Joe. Tim O’brien and the Red Knuckles schtick was just as bad.

There exists the same problem with all those barn-ditty electric guitar bassed alt-country bands that call themselves bluegrass but wouldn’t know Kenny Baker from James Baker. They proudly order a PBR, and claim the guy wearing overalls on stage is HILARIOUS! But its actually just plain stupid.

Humor has a place in Bluegrass, always has always will. But lets not make funnies to the detriment of the genre.

On any given evening if you stopped by the houses of the millions of Bluegrass instrument players (mandolin players especially) you are just as likely to find them studying tunes by Charlie Parker, Bach, Jacob Do Bandolim, as you are tunes by Flatt and Scruggs or Bill Monroe. Bluegrass fans are serious music fans, and are extremely knowledgeable about music in general, there is no reason to dumb down the music just for a laugh.

“Oh Brother” reached out to MILLIONS of people, in a similar way but where are those people now? Nowhere to be found. It was good music on the soundtrack but the movie again put Bluegrass in the “goofy overalls and hay bale” country schtick context that pop culture can’t seem to stop associating with Bluegrass.

I KNOW Steve Martin means well, and is a serious person. In fact I’ve heard he isn’t all that funny in person at all. But I wish he would just stop all the funny stuff and play some banjo. If you’ve heard his album The Crow then you’ll know he is capable of the seriously good stuff, and doesn’t need to be funny to produce good music.

I guess my frustration is less with Steve and more with how pop-culture frames his participation in Bluegrass and focuses on the schtick and less on the actual quality of the music behind the schtick.

Blah blah, Blah. Here is the Atheist’s gospel song, and it is funny.

Redfish report from Mr. Banjovi

 

A nice Low Country Redfish

 

I got this most excellent Redfish grip and grin photo from my favorite banjo player today, the one-and-only founding member of Big Red and the Wagoneers John Banjovi. Looks like you had a blast out on the Isle of Palms, we salute your dedication to all things pre-war, ol’ timey and slimey!

 

 

Mr. Banjovi gettin it done at Byrne's Pub a good while ago.

 

The Deadly Gentlemen, Carry Me to Home – A Review.

 

The Free Downloadable - Deadly Gentlemen

 

This morning I was made aware of the Deadly Gentlmen thanks to a post over on the Bluegrass Blog covering the Crooked Still folks. The Deadly Gentlemen’s  album “Carry Me to Home” is available for FREE download, gotta like that.

The Deadly Gentlemen, if we are to believe their own bio info, are a young super group of wunderkinds including Dawg’s son Sam on Bass. A genetic winning lottery ticket like being the son of the greatest madolin player in history gives them a huge leg up on the competition, but lets put that fact aside because in the end thats pretty immaterial to the musical properties and merits of the band.

I really don’t want to be a hater, and most who know me would say I’m not. I want to like this stuff, because in general its exploring new territory on the instruments that I love. Its breaking new ground, and there is something to say for that alone, I totally respect that.

But in the end, the album comes off like the long-lost never-before-heard bluegrass tracks form a bizzaro version of Phish’s Junta album, and not in a good way. The lyrics are basically machine gun delivery with multi-part harmony leads. I’m sure it is impressive in a bar, and plays very well with lots of screaming adoring fans. I’m sure they are pretty good live, and have a quite a following, if for nothing else than the fact that they are nice looking young white kids playing Bluegrass instruments. But man, it gets old, real quick. There isn’t a singable catchy hook any where in sight. The entire album is a barren wasteland of unpleasant acoustic art rock. It’s a beyond the thunder dome, post apocalyptic, scatterbrained , short attention span, Ritalin chewing, mess.

Its the vocals stupid. Its just way too much over the top yelling and crazy ADHD cut-and-paste Hip-hop contributions by the supporting voices. That, and I guess they never got the memo that Trey doesn’t have a very good singing voice and that imitating him doesn’t turn out well.

Although, for the folks that wish Phish would have been an all acoustic bluegrass band with amazing chops, these are your peeps.

The instrumentation is pretty good for the most part, but the banjo stuff is odd and never really gives it to you like you want it. The fiddle playing is outstanding but again is held to a bizzare cut and paste riffyness that never gets its done. The mandolin playing is basically relegated to rhythm with only a few leads and is disappointing. Like imagine if Chris Thile never blew your mind with a solo and thats pretty much the gist of it, a lot of fancy chopping tricks and not much more. I mean even with all this singing and shouting and fancy licks going on, never, not once did I find my self thinking Ah this good stuff right here. Its like one giant intro, with no pay off. Its like a joke without a punch line.

And oddly enough, in a testament to how tastes change over time, this is a band that 10 years ago I would have thought was the coolest thing since sliced bread. I would have dragged my then-to-be wife to the show, where she would look at me after two songs and said these guys suck, lets go to Dick’s Den.

That being said its worth the cost of admission, free 🙂

Now if you want to hear some guys who can really let you have it and never let up, not even for a minute, check out the Drowsy Lads. It ain’t Bluegrass, but it sure is good!