Posts Tagged ‘country music’

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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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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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