Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The grass is always bluer

Mere months ago, I told you that Bud and I have the same taste in music. Since then, Bud has been branching out. We still have a lot of musical tastes in common - there is still a lot of overlap - but the more we listen to the radio, the more we check out videos on Yahoo, the more we sample clips from iTunes, the more I'm discovering that Bud has a musical sensibility that's all his own.

Increasingly, he approaches me with iPod in hand and asks me to download a song for him - a song that I didn't know he liked; a song that doesn't particularly grab me. They tend to be testosterone-laden country songs with lyrics like "All my friends say I started shootin' doubles when you walked in..." And, then, on the flip side, there are other songs - lovely songs by artists he enjoys - that he rejects outright. He despises Keith Urban's "Everybody" so much that he made me cross out the song title on the CD case and on the disc itself before he'd listen to any of the other songs. (I asked him why he didn't like it. His reply: "It makes me strain.") I'm afraid this all might serve as irrefutable evidence that my sweet little boy is turning into a GUY, but that's a post for another time.

It's actually exciting to me that Bud is forging his own musical identity, and I want to help him follow his passions and explore the best of what the musical world has to offer. But lately, in addition to his good-old-boy country rocking, he's been tuning in to a genre that I know absolutely nothing about:

Bluegrass.

I first noticed that Bud was spending a lot of time listening to the Dierks Bentley album tracks that are heavily influenced by bluegrass. Then one day we were surfing iTunes together and he discovered the album Pickin' on Dierks Bentley: A Bluegrass Tribute. We listened to the 30-second clips and I told Bud he could choose a couple to download, but he was insistent: he needed to have them all. He loves them.

Yesterday, when he talked me into downloading Brooks and Dunn's "Play Something Country" for him, he caught a glimpse of the Pickin' on Brooks and Dunn tribute that's available on iTunes. I surfed away quickly enough to distract him, but I know it's only a matter of time before he discovers the whole (seemingly infinite) Pickin' On series.

Now, I don't want to be critical of the folks behind the Pickin' On empire, but they credit themselves only as "Various Artists." As I've said, I'm no bluegrass expert, but my hunch is that Pickin' On is not the very best that bluegrass has to offer.

I just don't know what is.

I put out the call to Bud's dad, who tends to know a lot about a lot of different kinds of music, and I'm casting a wide net out here to the blogosphere. Perhaps one of my regular readers is also a bluegrass aficionado. Or perhaps if I use the word "bluegrass" enough in this post - in phrases like "you just HAVE to hear this great bluegrass artist" or "this is the greatest bluegrass musician of all time," my Google hit will be high enough that some bluegrass junkies will surf on in and give me some tips.

So, bluegrass fans, tell me, please: My son and I are looking for the best in bluegrass. Where do we begin?

36 comments:

Ange said...

OK, I don't know if Little Big Town is partly bluegrass, but I like 'em and they have that feel in my opinion. I like Bud's taste. I go for the way songs make me feel and could care less what genre they're from. I tend to shy away from heavy metal and raunchy rap (they make me feel tense) but every so often there's a song that makes me feel in a good way. :)

My almost 8-year-old Bubba says Johnny Cash is the best. And he's always right.

Wendy said...

I know nothing about bluegrass but when I read your post I thought about Alison Krauss. Maybe he could give her a listen and see what he thinks.

Ange said...

Also, Bubba loves the music in Barnyard, especially the "North Mississippi Allstars."

Club 166 said...

Allison Krause is good. Also consider finding him something by Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, or Lester Flatt.

I took Buddy Boy to hear a local bluegrass group when he was about 4 1/2, and he's been able to identify the genre ever since.

Joe

Anonymous said...

The Del McCoury Band--http://www.delmccouryband.com/. Great stuff.

MOM-NOS said...

The blogosphere delivers, as always. Thanks, everyone - this is great (and keep em coming!)

Ange, you've definitely nailed Bud's tastes - he loves Little Big Town.

Wendy & Joe, someone (was it one of you?) recommended Alison Krauss previously and I borrowed one of her CD's from my brother, but I haven't gotten around to listening to it yet. Sounds like I should - and I should pass it on to Bud as well.

Joe - Bill Monroe. Did he do a song called "Singing the Blues"? Paul McCartney did a cover of it during his Unplugged session and I really loved it. I think Bill Monroe was the artist he mentioned.

Anon - I think Del McCoury appears on a Dierks Bentley track... probably one of the ones that Bud loves most. Thanks!

Marla said...

This is awesome. I have no idea about blue grass. M is showing more interest in music too. I am thrilled because it is so like her age to be into something like that.

Daisy said...

Look for live bands, too. We have a local band called The Wayfaring Strangers, and Amigo loves to listen to them.

MOM-NOS said...

I was wrong about the Bill Monroe "Singing the Blues" thing. There's no listing for it on iTunes, but his #1 download is "Blue Moon of Kentucky," which McCartney also played during the same set. I must have gotten them confused.

And Anonymous, if you happen to surf back here - there are about a thousand Del McCoury tracks on iTunes. Any favorites you'd like to recommend?

kristina said...

Soundtrack from O Brother Where Art Thou?

MOM-NOS said...

Oh YEAH, Kristina! I never thought of that!

Anonymous said...

yonder mountain string band. very tolerable for the whole family.

Anonymous said...

string cheese incident. awesome. addictive....I will try to think of a good intro song for bud.

Krista said...

First- A disclaimer- I am a celtic music fan, not a country fan, but there is a lot of Bluegrass crossover. In fact, a girlfriend of mine is starting a bluegrass band called the Winchester Mystery Trailer. First suggestion: Nickel Creek. Bill Monroe has already been suggested- he is the father of modern bluegrass. I echo Alison Krauss as well. I don't think Ricky Skaggs has been mentioned. Also check out The Seldom Scene and Hazel Dickens. :)

Anonymous said...

ok...sorry...I had to ask my 7 year old son what his favorite song was from the strng cheese incident. he is on the spectrum as well. he gives a big thumbs up to valley of the jig. if bud likes fiddle-he should dig that one.

Harvest Mom said...

Nickel Creek is my absolute favorite!! Their first albumn was made when they were kids going by the name "The Nickel Creek Band", and my guess is that Bud will LOVE it. Some of their more recent music is a little, um, odd and strays a bit from true bluegrass (but I love it all the same, and Bud may well too). You should also have him check out Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band -- they are not strictly bluegrass, but what bluegrass they do is VERY high quality. (And I love how they combine bluegrass and reggae on occassion, it's just TOO COOL.)

Anyway, good taste, Bud!! My kids love bluegrass too.

Christine said...

We have a similar, Oliver-inspired, love of bluegrass in this house. In fact, the first time I ever saw Oliver dance was to bluegrass and I promptly wrote my first fan letter, ever. Since then the Hackensaw Boys have invited us to see their show anytime they are performing nearby. So not only can I recommend their music but they are also nice guys. Their website (http://www.hackensawboys.com/) has a video of a performance and I defy anybody to watch it and not end up grinning from ear to ear!

tuesdaymom said...

I agree on Alison Krauss and also Union Station. Also, Jerry Douglas, if he prefers male singers. The O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack is a great place to start, as is an album called O Sister...(all women artists). The Cold Mountain soundtrack is mostly bluegrass too. Soundtracks are always good because they give a good sampling. Good luck!

Drama Mama said...

My brother in law is a bluegrass Dobro player. Email me and I/he will happily send you some music. And show Bud "O Brother Where Art Thou" - it's just a great movie anyway.

tkizzle50@gmail.com

Jess said...

You got some good ideas here: Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Nickel Creek - all pretty safe. There's a great band from Colorado called Open Road. Also try Cherryholmes and the Greencards.

MOM-NOS said...

This. Is. Amazing.

You folks really are a resource on just about everything. I honestly expected two, or maybe three, responses to this post.

I'm having lots of fun trying out iTunes samples. Krista, you're right - there is a lot of crossover with the Celtic sound.

Drama Mama, I'm coming your way...

mommy~dearest said...

Ummm...I cannot offer any suggestions on Bluegrass, but if Bud ever wants to delve into the world of "the 80's", I am your Retro queen.

Wishing you lots of luck!

NancyS said...

Four words:

OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW

Christy said...

Nancys beat me to it, but I second Old Crow Medicine Show. Great band.

Another band from my home state of Alaska that has made it nationally is called Barefoot Bluegrass.

Enjoy!

Sarah said...

I thought I would put in my oar for a local band, the Ebony Hilbillies. I see them performing in the Times Square subway station all the time and they are just terrific. It's not strictly bluegrass - they call themselves a "string band" - but it's a very authentic sound. You can check them out, listen to clips, and buy CDs at http://ebonyhillbillies.com.

My own spectrum child has a huge new musical interest these days: klezmer. If Bud has any interest in very peppy music heavy on the clarinet, check out the Klezmer Conservatory Band (I like "A Jumpin' Night in the Garden of Eden"). Then you, too, can get into the car to the insistent request of "Mommy, I want Happy Matzoh-Ball."

Anonymous said...

If you want to go another way (or just for laughs), you could check out Hayseed Dixie.

Harvest Mom said...

Oh, I meant to mention in my earlier comment, I absolutely ADORE Keith Urban, but I find his "Everybody" song annoying and whiny. So it's not just Bud!

KAL said...

Weird coincidence: I came upon an item in our local paper today (apparently they live 'round these parts) -- anyways "[Bluegrass band] Seldom Scene is up for best bluegrass album 'SCENEchronized' which was released in August 2007" ... maybe worth checking out for Bud?

VTBudFan said...

I remember liking the band Breakaway when we were checking out bands for our wedding. (They were busy that day!)

One weekend when I was a kid, my parents announced that we were going to attend a bluegrass festival. Though we had no idea what bluegrass was, my brother and I pitched such a fit that my parents gave up on the idea. (As usual, as it turns out, they were right!)

:) Happy listening!

Chris Ereneta said...

Here's a lengthy reply, that will attempt to namecheck most of the previous suggestions. I'm a bluegrass musician and a father to a hyperlexic boy, so I feel invested in offering a considered response.

The word "bluegrass" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It may take a while for you and Bud to find your way through it. Old-school bluegrass that was impossibly shrill to me in the early 1990s is now all I'll listen to.

I'll identify four basic categories for exploration:

Traditional bluegrass (codified in the 1940s, named in the 1960s) is limited to six instruments: mandolin, guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle, and dobro (resophonic slide guitar). Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers (my favorites) are the classic triumvirate of originators, but hardcore fans include Jimmy Martin, the Osborne Brothers, and Jim & Jesse. It's distinguished by stark, sometimes harsh ("high lonesome") harmonies, and typically maintains a rough mountain or Southern twang. Ralph Stanley (of the Stanley Brothers) is the anointed elder statesman at present, and has a couple of projects with Jim Lauderdale, and has three all-star duet albums (search "Ralph Stanley & Friends" in iTunes for two of them, except the other artists aren't listed).

Contemporary Traditional is what emerged out of the folk revival of the 60s and the country rock 70s. The instrumentation remains the same as Traditional bluegrass, but the harmonies and twang are smoothed into a cleaner, pop sound (e.g. the "Pickin' On" albums). Bentley (and his compadres The Grascals), Little Big Town, and Mountain Heart exemplify the most pop-confection zone of Contemporary Traditional. Alison Krauss, the top-selling bluegrass artist, is extremely pleasant to listen to. As are Dolly Parton's "bluegrass" albums ("The Grass is Blue", "Halos & Horns", "Little Sparrow"). Contemporary bands that keep a foot further back towards tradition include Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Cherryholmes, Rhonda Vincent, and Del McCoury (but note that McCoury pre-2000 may be a little more "high lonesome" than you can stand). Deeper cuts: Blue Highway, The Lonesome River Band, Mountain Heart.

Progressive Bluegrass (or "Newgrass") developed as players--especially banjo players, c.f. Earl Scruggs' solo career--got weary of playing in the same keys and with the same constrained scale (pentatonic, for the music nerds playing along), and began pushing the instrumental solos into jazz territory, sometimes into other genres. String Cheese Incident is a descendant of this. See also Yonder Mountain String Band, David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, The Waybacks. Nickel Creek is a progressive band with a smooth pop sound and a celtic flavor that people quite like.

Post-Contemporary Traditional is where I'd place Old Crow Medicine Show and the Hackensaw Boys (and a new favorite, the Carolina Chocolate Drops). Younger indie musicians, especially, have latched onto the raw energy of traditional and vintage recordings, and found a powerful punk spirit therein. More ragged sounds include the above bands, The Bad Livers, The Meat Purveyors, The Wilders, Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops, Split Lip Rayfield. Smoother sounds include Foghorn Stringband, Uncle Earl, The Crooked Jades, and the Stairwell Sisters.

iTunes does feature a Bluegrass "iTunes Essentials" that sticks mostly to the Traditional and Contemporary Traditional categories.

My own tastes run deep into the Traditional and Post-Contemporary worlds, but I do have the following four suggestions for people new to bluegrass, even if their tastes skew more towards the Contemporary Traditional, in part because these albums served as the gateway for me to fall in love with the music:

"Skaggs & Rice" (1980) Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice. Two voices, mandolin, and guitar. A beautiful, relaxed meeting of two bluegrass rockstars.

"Revival" (1996) Gillian Welch. Again, not strictly bluegrass (two voices, two guitars), but arguably the album that launched the Post-Contemporary traditionalist explosion. With a set of original, beautiful, spooky songs that immediately entered the traditional bluegrass canon.

"Red on Blonde" (1996) Tim O'Brien. A mix of bluegrass and related acoustic styles as applied to an entire album of Bob Dylan covers. O'Brien straddles the contemporary traditionalist and progressive worlds. He pushes the edges instrumentally (accordions, drums, etc.) but keeps his feet grounded in tradition and doesn't head off into extended jams.

"J.D. Crowe & The New South" (1978) J.D. Crowe & The New South, featuring Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, and Jerry Douglas. The album that set the Contemporary Traditional standard.

Finally, bluegrass, like jazz, is a music that can mean more in a live setting than in recordings. You can use google to find local bands in your area, and try a live show. Many bluegrass performances are free and "family-friendly", meaning it's fine to come and go if it's not working out for Bud (or you).

Hope that's not too overwhelming. Happy listening!

Chris Ereneta said...

The iTunes Essentials Bluegrass link isn't working.
The URL is:

http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewMix?id=40916059&s=143441

MOM-NOS said...

Chris!! This is incredible and SO SO SO helpful! THANK YOU for taking the time to write it all out!

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iris said...

If you do Netflix, get "Bill Monroe: The Father of Bluegrass." Awesome footage of the father of bluegrass--and the man who coined the term itself.

Also, try eMusic for tons of bluegrass that you won't find on iTunes. Even better--eMusic is much cheaper (about 25 cents/song) and has no DRM restrictions, so you can play it on any mp3-capable player and any number of computers.

New oldy timey music? Old Crow Medicine Show!

neil said...

I'm no bluegrass expert, but I'm pretty sure the Ozark Mountain Daredevils are bluegrass and I love their 1974 album, It'll Shine When It Shines, lots of great tracks and atmosphere.

Stacy said...

sorry this is so late but i just found your blog.

for female americana/folk/bluegrass, I LOVE the Be Good Tanyas, especially the "Blue Horse" album.

The Yo-Yo Ma "Appalachian Journey" CDs are also great for mostly instrumental songs.