A friend at work told me the other day that he enjoyed bluegrass music and said that he learned of it through the Pickin’ On series of albums by CMH Records. They are covers of music done with bluegrass instruments. I’ve not listened to many of them, but told him that I didn’t care for the albums I had heard because they weren’t rearranged into bluegrass style, just redone with bluegrass instruments.
That got me thinking about how I’d introduce bluegrass music to someone who wasn’t really familiar with it. I’ve been pondering what ten songs I’d use to do that and why. There wasn’t anything special about ten songs – it was just a nice round number and a manageable number for someone to listen to.
So I decided to think through it and write down the songs I’ve chosen so far and why. I did put one constraint on this list. The songs needed to be available on Spotify so I could share the playlist with others. My playlist is here. They songs are not in priority order, but were rather arranged in something of a story line. [If you see a large blank space below, the Spotify player is likely being blocked by a browser extension, Ghostery in my case. You also need to have a Spotify account to play it.]
I open the playlist with Steel Drivin’ Man by Dailey and Vincent. It is a hard driving train song that opens with a strong banjo lick and features brief fiddle, mandolin, guitar and banjo solos between verses.
Kentucky Borderline by Rhonda Vincent and the Rage is second. It keeps in the train theme and introduces both a strong female vocal lead and strong harmonies in the choruses.
Bluegrass music is founded on its roots and they are highlighted in the third song, Down the Road by Flatt & Scruggs. This song includes Lester Flatt on the banjo, which I think is necessary because of how he changed the music through his innovative and revolutionary playing style. This song also speaks of relationships which are a common theme in bluegrass music.
Paying homage to the past is up next with I’ll Go Stepping Too by The Earls of Leicester. The Earls of Leicester released their initial and self-titled album last year with fourteen covers of Flatt & Scruggs songs that stay faithful to the original sound. (Leicester is pronounced Lester, by the way. Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt – Earls of Leicester.) This song also talks about relationships, but broken ones in which one partner is unfaithful and hurts the other. That’s pretty common in bluegrass music, too.
1952 Vincent Black Lightning by Del McCoury is up next. It is another relationship song, but also brings two additional themes common in bluegrass music to the playlist – story telling and death. There are many great bluegrass songs whose lyrics tell a story. This is one of my favorites. James, one of the two main characters in the song, dies at the end of the song and story (sorry, I should have labeled that as a spoiler alert).
Caney Fork River by Balsam Range is next and continues in many of these themes. It is also a story song and includes relationship, unfaithfulness and death. This song could also be an entry in the You Know You’re a Bluegrass Fan game. You know you’re a bluegrass fan when you know the answer to the question, “How many times must I cross that old Caney Fork River, traveling through the state of Tennessee?”. I think the answer is five – at least when you’re on I-40.
Toy Heart by Ricky Skaggs, Bruce Hornsby and Kentucky Thunder is an interesting song in that it both pays homage to the past and shows that bluegrass music can embrace new ideas. The song, and entire collaboration between Skaggs and Hornsby, brings a piano into bluegrass music! A piano! Oh, the horrors!
Don’t think that the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, is spinning in his grave over that, however. Bill himself included drums in his music from time to time. Bill himself is up next with his Blue Grass Boys and Uncle Penn. I don’t think any introduction to bluegrass music would be complete without including Bill Monroe. Uncle Penn features a story, great fiddle playing, crisp singing and great ensemble playing.
Bluegrass music isn’t just about singing. Instrumental songs have long been a staple of the genre. The Crow by Steve Martin is a shining example of this along with really outstanding banjo picking. It also demonstrates how people not normally known for bluegrass music can come into the genre. Steve Martin was named as one of the fifty greatest comics of all time by his peers and has had a long and successful movie career. He knocks it out of the part with his banjo playing and has had a wonderful collaboration with the Steep Canyon Rangers the past few years.
Speaking of people not normally known for their prowess in bluegrass music. Country music superstar Alan Jackson finishes out my ten songs with Blue Ridge Mountain Song from his bluegrass album, simply and cleverly entitled The Bluegrass Album. This song tells a story about a relationship, a lifetime-long faithful relationship in this case. It is the best example I can imagine of the weeping fiddle playing style.
So there you have it. As it stands now, these are the ten songs I’d use to introduce bluegrass music to someone new to the genre. I may change them as I continue to ponder this and think of things I want to include.
If you want to suggest changes to the list, do so in the comments. Include the song, artist, why you’d add the song to the list and which song you’d take off of the list to fit it in. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
For what its worth, the last few songs I cut from the list to get down to ten were Blue Side of the Blue Ridge by Junior Sisk and Rambler’s Choice, Jason’s Farm by James King and Dixie Road by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.
[25-Jan Update: I figured out it was Ghostery that was blocking the embedded Spotify player in this post, so I updated the paragraph right before the player to reflect that.]
I’ve been publishing a daily Bible study reading following a plan to read through the King James Bible every calendar for the last several years. All of that time, I’ve used an email distribution list service called Topica to send the daily email messages. A month ago, Topica announced that they were shutting down their email distribution service tomorrow.
I’ve implemented a solution that coordinates that directly from the weblog and made the switch to it today. You can now sign up to receive the daily Bible study readings on the weblog itself, in a subscription form currently in the right column of the blog.
I think I’ve updated all of the references to the soon-to-close Topica service, but if you find one I’ve missed, please let me know.
I’m posting this here to capture the details to pass onto Skype.
I tried to buy Skype credit today so I can call land line phones from my iPad. The process of placing an order is straightforward enough, though Skype doesn’t let you use coupon codes to add to your own account, so I’m buying a gift code. 30% savings is worth the little bit of extra effort.
They’ve outsourced their payment transactions to some group called Chat&Vision. They do not have their act together. When trying to place the order, I get these two PHP errors.
A PHP Error was encountered
Message: Invalid argument supplied for foreach()
Line Number: 374
A PHP Error was encountered
Message: Cannot modify header information – headers already sent by (output started at /var/www/html/chatandvision.com/ci/libraries/Exceptions.php:172)
Line Number: 541
That’s bad, to be sure, but it is not the dumb part. When going back in to try the order again, I get an error from Chat&Vision saying that a particular email address can only buy five vouchers per month. Not only did I try to buy just one gift card, which I’m presuming is the same thing as a voucher, I wasn’t successful in buying it. And I’m apparently locked out of buying more.
Well done, Skype. I’m trying to pay and can’t. In addition, I can find no way to actually talk or chat with someone for customer service at either Skype or Chat&Vision to get help.
I’m posting this message in case others who have the problem are looking for a solution.
I updated the software I use to run this weblog to WordPress 3.9 the other day and immediately started having a problem where the dashboard on the left hand column would disappear. The bookmark I have saved for the weblog displays draft posts, if any. What I found was that anytime I’d navigate to any of the post features, the dashboard would go blank after a second or two. If I could manage to click another, non-post link quickly enough, the dashboard would remain displayed.
Investigation into this behavior led me to disable my WordPress plugins then reactivate them one at a time to see if the problem returned. With all of the plugins disabled, the dashboard did not go missing. With one plugin reactivated, the problem recurred.
It appears that the plugin WordPress Backup to Dropbox v1.8.1 is not fully compatible with WordPress v3.9. I sent a message to the developer yesterday letting him know of this, but haven’t heard back yet. I’ll update this post when the problem is fixed.
If this works, you ought to see a game below. Use your arrow keys to move tiles with the same number so they touch and merge together. Keep doing this until you get to 2048.
James Covenant has a wonderful mashup of Captain Picard and senior members of his crew “singing” Let It Snow. Very well done.
Comet ISON passed by the Sun on Thanksgiving Day last week and didn’t survive in any form that we’ll be able to see. NASA has posted a video of the view from a satellite positioned on the other side of the sun showing the comet blasting into a solar flare and basically disintegrating.
No, I don’t mean to imply that I’m starting to post frequently here again. Not that I’d assume anyone has been waiting for me to do so, mind you.
The Wait is Over is a new album by bluegrass band Jett’s Creek that was just released on Mountain Fever Records. To celebrate their new release, the band is offering the entire album as a free download through October 22.
That’s pretty cool. I just downloaded the album and will likely listen to it in the morning when I’m out walking. An earlier album of theirs, Guilty, is available on Spotify if you’re a subscriber there.
Thanks to the Jett’s Creek and to Mountain Fever Records for making this available. Thanks also to Bluegrass Today for pointing out the release.
Tech Support Alert has an extensive and recently updated list of the best free games for the PC. If you’re into PC gaming, it is worth checking out.
Well done, Audi. They’ve created an extended commercial for their A7 automobile on YouTube featuring Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto, both of whom have played or are currently playing Spock on Star Trek. It plays off of the character in a very funny way.