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Acoustic Blue: Eras & Regions

14 August 2010

Like so many siblings, bluegrass and country music started out close, then drifted apart, only to reconnect in later years. Now I know what some of you are thinking: “Wha—?” As I write this, the #1 country hit is “Free” by the Zac Brown Band, a tune that, apart from a little fiddle in the background, would seem to have about as much in common with bluegrass as the latest from Katy Perry. Fair enough, but let’s rewind the clock fifty years or so. At that time, amped-up country tunes like George Jones’ “White Lightenin’” were also seen as quite removed from acoustic-based bluegrass. Today, however, the classic country of Jones, Merle Haggard, Porter Wagoner and others provides fodder and inspiration for many bluegrass bands.

Such is the case for the Berkshire bluegrass outfit Acoustic Blue. In this third installment of Ye Olde Performer Showcase featuring Acoustic Blue, we dig down to those country roots:

By the way, that tune running through the piece is the Merle Haggard standard “Workin’ Man Blues.”

Of course, bluegrass makes a natural fit as a refuge for fans of traditional country music.  Even so, not everyone in the bluegrass scene is happy about the marriage. In particular, some of the more experimental players— many of whom draw elements of swing and older music styles into their music— find the country influence confining. Note that I didn’t use the term “progressive” to define this contingent. “Progressive” has come to have so many different connotations in bluegrass that I’m not sure what it means anymore.

In any event, as I always say, I’m a lover not a fighter. I love the full spectrum of flavors that can be found in bluegrass and string band music, from gypsy swing to Texas fiddle to honky tonk. But that’s just me. Where do you come down on this issue?

Another interesting point raised by Bear Aker in this profile is that Northern bands tend to pay less attention to their vocals than they do to their instrumental work. Say, didn’t we fight a war over that issue? Actually, I’ve heard this characterization more than a few times. Based on my experience, it rings true. What say you?

Finally…

If you like what you’re hearing from Acoustic Blue and happen to be in the vicinity of the Vermont/Canadian border, uh, today (August 14th), come on over to the Lake Champlain Bluegrass Festival. Acoustic Blue will be playing a couple of sets, including one right before the Mother of All Family Bands, Cherryholmes, takes the stage. I’m heading up there myself, so if you see me, come say “hi” and we’ll pick a tune or three.

Yer Pal— Curly

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