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The term “contemporary bluegrass” is open to a ridiculous amount of interpretation. For some it signifies anything that strays even a little beyond the template set by Ralph Stanley, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs — which means that damn near everything we hear nowadays that falls under the heading of bluegrass is “contemporary.”

Jim Lauderdale: The Bluegrass Diaries

If you recognize the name, little more needs to be said. Long one of the first-call songwriters in Nashville, Jim Lauderdale is probably the guy responsible for penning some of your favorite country tunes.

By Chris Cooper

A few years ago there was this gangly guy with a mop of shaggy blonde hair sitting on a bench reading Beneath The Wheel by Herman Hesse. I recognized the book because a friend of mine had recently acquired a copy, and I’d made a half-hearted attempt to work my way through it.

There was an interesting coincidence on July 11, 2006. Thom Yorke released Eraser to mixed reviews, and the same day a band that still desperately wants to be Radiohead (that would be Muse) dropped their newest, Black Holes And Revelations.

A few notes on 2007

By Chris Cooper

Looking back on the albums and/or shows (be they local, regional or major label offerings) I’ve had the opportunity to write about over the last year, two things struck me: 1) that I was lucky enough to hear all this music in the first place, sometimes even for free, and 2) that I wouldn’t have heard any of it on the “radio.” I know, that’s a pretty easy target these days. The real challenge might be finding anybody that doesn’t hate mainstream radio.

By Chris Cooper

Before getting started, let me say that I completely missed Grace Potter’s performance at the Christmas Jam. Heard she was fantastic. Didn’t see Jackson Browne either — heard he was a little depressing. In fact, once I arrived at the Asheville Civic Center (and by the time we’d succumbed to defeat in finding anything resembling “convenient” parking, found a lot at street level and climbed that massive hill to the front entrance) my nose was frozen, my fingers were numb and Bruce Hornsby was finishing up “End Of The Innocence.”

We’re rapidly approaching that part of the year referred to endearingly as “Grammy Season.” This is the time when we all gather round our televisions, going through post-Christmas/New Year’s holiday withdrawal, ready for another up close and personal reminder that, yes, pop music is in deep, deep trouble.

By Chris Cooper

It hardly needs to be said that the banjo has taken major leaps in the hands of certain talented players over the years. It’s job as the “rhythmic glue” in traditional bluegrass continues, but has also evolved and found a unique voice in the more complex harmonies of jazz, “newgrass,” and all points in between. And the award winning playing of Tony Trischka has been a major force in taking the instrument to these new places for some 40 years or so.

By Chris Cooper

It’s not such an odd pairing when you think about it; two voices as recognizable as these, weaving and twisting around each other, using their considerable interpretive skills on a set of songs written by the likes of Tom Waits, the Everly Brothers, Sam Phillips and Townes Van Zandt. Plant’s music, either with the band that made him part of rock’s pantheon or on his solo efforts, has often been sprinkled with early blues, 50’s rockabilly, world music and the pastoral shades that bluegrass’s traditional instrumentation (acoustic guitars, mandolin and banjo played by band mates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones) can provide.

By Chris Cooper

Mountain Heart released a fantastic album last year with Wide Open, demonstrating a remarkable ability to make modern, crossover friendly bluegrass without sacrificing one bit of musicality and soul.

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