They are the bridge.
In the bluegrass world these days, it seems there are two camps of thought and performance — neo-traditional and progressive. On one side, you have the “old school” of Larry Sparks, Doyle Lawson and those who truly adhere to the likes of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. On the other, are those who stretch out a little bit, where the lines between bluegrass, Americana and soul are blurred, acts likes The Steep Canyon Rangers, Greensky Bluegrass and Yonder Mountain String Band.
It ain’t dead.
Rock-n-roll. In an era when sugar-coated pop stars and polished country acts are atop the charts, one wonders if there is any shred of real rock swagger and attitude anymore. Where is that sound and tone that pushes sonic barriers and actually challenges you to think outside the box with lyrical content that isn’t about riverbanks and moonshine, but rather focuses on the raw elements of the human condition?
It’s about time.
It’s about time someone kicked us all in the ass when it comes to the power and swagger (and social responsibility) of rock music. It’s been awhile since I came across a melodic entity that truly made me immediately blurt out, “Who in the hell in this? And why am I just hearing about this right now?”
“You don’t know me but I’m your brother/I was raised here in this living hell/You don’t know my kind in your world/Fairly soon the time will tell/You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me/I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see/Takin’ it to the streets…”
Heralding from just down the mountain in Greenville, South Carolina, Bear Rinehart is the front man for the rock group NEEDTOBREATHE. He has that rare quality of voice that allows him to stand out from other singers in his genre. Not only does Rinehart have the chops, he’s also a talented songwriter and musician.
It’s about staying true to yourself.
When you converse with country/bluegrass legend Marty Stuart, you’re speaking to the source. From being a teenager, touring and performing side-by-side with Lester Flatt in the 1970s, to finding country radio success in the 1980s and 1990s, to his enduring work with Doc Watson and Johnny Cash, Stuart has risen into the upper echelon of Nashville icons.
The eternal struggle of bluegrass is being able to balance evolution with tradition.
How does one adhere to the pickin’ and grinnin’ ways of the old days, but also be able to stretch the boundaries into new and innovative realms? That dilemma currently lies at the feet on the bluegrass world. And yet, as that question remains, so does the internal drive by all of the genre’s musicians to ensure the preservation and perpetuation of this melodic force at the foundation of this country.
It’s a whirlwind.
With his group Tiny Universe, saxophonist Karl Denson seamlessly creates this vortex onstage, a sonic hub where jazz, rock, funk and soul collide, swirling around one another like a street fight with no determined victor. The sights and sounds hit the listener with such force, it will make you rethink just what improvisational music and live performance can be — and ultimately is — at least within the endless curiosity of Denson.
Taking a seat on the old couch, my foot began to tap immediately.
The living room full of friends and soon-to-friends sat atop a frigid mountain just west of Clayton, Georgia. It was another evening hosted by the Grouse Mountain House Concerts, and standing in the middle of the space was Nick Dittmeier & The Sawdusters, headlong into a rollicking set that shook the floorboards and also the dust off any souls within earshot.
My ears are still ringing.
After catching two nights of the Drive-By Truckers this past weekend (Knoxville/Asheville), my eyes were bleary, my head still somewhat rattling. Not just from the sheer force of the rock band, but also from the thoughts bouncing around my mind from what I witnessed.