May is Bluegrass Month!
By Jim Caligiuri,
1:00PM, Wed. May 20, 2009
It’s unofficial, but for the past 20 years or so May has been Bluegrass Month. Here’s a look at a slew of recent releases that fall under the umbrella. Check out the International Bluegrass Music Association’s website or, locally, the Central Texas Bluegrass Association.
Dailey and Vincent’s Brothers From Different Mothers (Rounder) is one of the best releases of the year. Deeply traditional, with sweet harmonies and excellent musicianship, the duo covers lots of ground yet keeps it tight and lively.
The Gibson Brothers were a highlight at this year’s Old Settler’s Music Festival and bring their brotherly harmonies home with Ring the Bell (Compass). The New York-based brothers' sound is classic yet their outlook is youthful enough to record Tom Petty’s “Angel Dream."
Best known for his mix of bluegrass and gospel, as well as stellar mandolin play, Doyle Lawson and his band, Quicksilver, take to the secular side of Lonely Street (Rounder). Longtime followers will find lots to love here, but the uninitiated will discover unparalleled three-part harmonies and, since Lawson always features top-notch sidemen, lots of hot picking.
It’s a sign of the times: Looking Glass (Sugar Hill), the solo debut of banjo master Chris Pandolfi, is a digital-only release. It’s a stretch to call some of what he does bluegrass, but Bela Fleck fans will appreciate his ability to be adventurous and sophisticated without descending into wankery.
Doors and Windows (Compass) is the third disc for Alaska’s Barefoot. It finds the young quintet stepping into the soft pop style of Nickel Creek and away from their previous sharp, high spirit. Especially egregious is a mushy take on the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” that removes the angst of the song and replaces it with some kind of teenage romantic fantasy.
Other bluegrass-themed discs I’ve written about on the pages of the Chronicle worth seeking out: The cowboy style of Michael Martin Murphey’s Buckaroo Blue Grass (Rural Rhythm) and the Greencards’ Fascination (Sugar Hill), perhaps their best work to date. Also, don’t forget the release party for local prodigy Sarah Jarosz's debut, Song Up In Her Head (Sugar Hill), June 10 at the Cactus Cafe.