Posts Tagged ‘Merle Haggard’

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Berkshire Postcard: The Corey Zink Band

22 March 2013

Winter may be the season for woodshedding those fiddle tunes, but if you stay huddled by the stove too long, you’ll go stir crazy. Up in the Berkshire Mountains, the local bluegrass community understands this, so for years now, they’ve turned out in force in the depths of winter for an indoor picnic featuring several New England bands. This year’s event took place within the cozy confines of the VFW Post in Dalton, Massachusetts. It was dubbed The Corey Zink Band Concert Series in recognition of the guiding role Berkshire native Zink plays as both performer and impresario. Here’s a video that we hope captures the flavor of the show and the character of Zink’s band:

Stepping through the threshold at the Dalton VFW Post is a little disorienting. From the basement bar to the portraits of past leaders on the walls, the setting seems largely untouched by the past half century. Then you look over at the stage, and there’s Corey Zink, sporting a crisp suit and a crew cut and singing a country song that was last climbing the charts when JFK was president. It’s a “Back to the Future” experience, no supercharged DeLorean needed.

The tune Zink and the band are playing is “Another Day, Another Dollar,” by Wynn Stewart. Along with the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, Stewart was an architect of the Bakersfield Sound, a hard-driving, honky tonk-flavored style of country music that flourished in the 1960’s. Adapting that sound to bluegrass is nothing new— folks like J.D. Crowe were doing it back when the original recordings were hot off the presses— but traditionalists like Zink are cementing the connection between that bygone era and the bluegrass canon.

The Corey Zink Band (Zink on guitar, Larry Neu on banjo, John Roc on mandolin and Ray Evans on bass) is still a relatively young unit, but because several of its members played together previously in the group Acoustic Blue, they have a comfortable rapport both with each other, the audience and their material. Mandolin player John Roc is the most recent addition, having just joined the band last fall, but his decades of experience show in the ease with which he fits into the band’s arrangements.

We’ve got more souvenirs from our frosty and rustic road trip coming up, so set yer GPS for this site and circle back often.

Yer Pal—Curly

P.S.— Truth in advertising: “Another Day, Another Dollar” is a vintage number, but it has come back on the radar in popular culture in recent years thanks to Volkswagen featuring it in a Jetta commercial a few years back. So perhaps rather than taking us back in time, Zink & Co. are actually engaged in some postmodern neo-retro hipsterism? No chance— these guys’ old school approach isn’t a passing fancy; it’s a way of life.

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Acoustic Blue: Making Connections

20 September 2010

When a star of classical music plays a concert at, say, Symphony Hall here in Boston, it’s common practice for just a handful of carefully vetted music students and aspiring professionals to be permitted into the green room after the performance. When a pop music act plays a venue like the Boston Garden, a select group of fat cats, friends and contest winners are given backstage passes.

In bluegrass, such gate keeping hardly exists. When I go to even very large festivals or concerts, I’m always struck by how accessible some of the biggest names in the business can be. Not only will performers generally come down to the merchandise tables after a show; it’s not uncommon to find them picking around some campsite in the wee hours.

This is one of the charms of bluegrass: that it’s an intensely social form of music at every level. Virtuosity is certainly prized, but there’s a human element to the music that’s harder to quantify yet equally important. Whenever we catch a bluegrass act, we’re particularly attuned to how the performers relate to each other, and how they connect with the audience.

This theme of connections— both within a band and with the public— is the subject of Cousin Curly’s final installment of Ye Olde Performer Showcase featuring the New England-based bluegrass outfit Acoustic Blue:

The song accompanying this segment is Merle Haggard’s rowdy ode to heartache and hard living, “Back to the Barrooms.” Just listening to it makes me thirsty.

To explore all the Performer Showcase segments, click here. A tip of the hat in gratitude to the members of Acoustic Blue for sharing their thoughts and experiences with me. Here’s to our paths crossing again soon!

Yer Pal— Curly

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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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