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Introducing Ye Olde Performer Showcase!

8 July 2010

I’ve discussed Boston’s distinctive, hybridized bluegrass scene in the past. Given the success of edgy Boston-affiliated roots bands like Crooked Still and Session Americana, it may come as a surprise for those outside the region to learn that, in New England as a whole, a more orthodox brand of bluegrass is the norm.

One group that typifies the Yankee appetite for straight-ahead, country-tinged bluegrass is Acoustic Blue, an outfit based in the Berkshires. Having released three albums and toured extensively in their seven years together, the band has honed an act that balances a tight sound with a relaxed stage presence.

At this year’s Jenny Brook Family Bluegrass Festival, I had a chance to sit down with the members of Acoustic Blue to record the first entries in what I hope will be a regular feature: Ye Old Performer Showcase. Here’s a first installment—

Acoustic Blue’s key assets are its strong vocals and its collective songwriting talent. The tune featured in the video clip above, “1940 Ford,” is a song that mandolinist Corey Zink penned about bassist Bear Acker’s beloved old pickup truck. As this number illustrates, Zink & Co. have a penchant for heartfelt storytelling and pithy couplets that are the mark of well-crafted country and bluegrass material. Stay tuned for an upcoming Showcase installment that deals specifically with the band’s songwriting skills.

As for the singing, Zink’s reverence for George Jones would be apparent even if you didn’t know that he has a room in his home dedicated to Jones memorabilia. He shares with his hero an uncanny vocal range and a delivery that’s stripped of irony or pretense. The affinity that Zink and his band mates feel for classic country performers like Jones will also be explored more fully in upcoming Showcase segments.

If you dig around online (or on my YouTube channel, for that matter) you can find videos of the likes of Chris Thile, Michael Cleveland and Josh Williams playing bluegrass when they were just out of diapers. Stuff like that can make folks like Yers Truly feel like we came to the pickin’ party way, way too late. It’s therefore heartening to learn that at least a couple of the members of Acoustic Blue only embraced their instruments after first exploring other musical avenues. Who knew that being a rock drummer was the ideal apprenticeship for bluegrass?

Another theme that came up as I explored the backgrounds of the band members is the fact that music was always a part of the households in which they grew up. The moral is clear: If you want your babies to grow up to pick and sing like these guys, make sure there’s plenty of music in the air.

Yer Pal— Curly

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