Music

The Best Bluegrass of 2009

Steve Leftridge and Juli Thanki

For bluegrass fans, 2009 was a great year for music, a bad year for frugality. Though we're only listing the Top Ten, there were many excellent artists and albums worthy of a mention.

For bluegrass fans, 2009 was a great year for music, a bad year for frugality. Though we're only listing the Top Ten, there are many excellent artists and albums worthy of an honorable mention, including Donna Ulisse's Walk This Mountain Down, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver's Lonely Street, Don't Turn Your Back by Dale Ann Bradley, and Alicia Nugent's Hillbilly Goddess just barely missing the Top Ten. Don't forget solid releases from the Del McCoury Band, the Emmit Nershi Band, Rhonda Vincent, and Dry Branch Fire Squad. And with several teen and 20-somethings releasing exciting and innovative music (Jeremy Garrett, Chris Pandolfi, and Sarah Jarosz, among others), it seems safe to say that the future of bluegrass is in good hands.

 

Artist: Dailey and Vincent

Album: Brothers from Different Mothers

Label: Rounder

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/d/daileyandvincent-brothersfromdifferentmothers.jpg

Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2009-03-31

UK Release Date: 2009-05-04

Display as: List

List number: 10

It's hard to think of a more befitting title for Dailey and Vincent's sophomore album; when the two sing together, it's reminiscent of bluegrass' best brother duos like the Monroes, Louvins, or Stanleys. Last year's self-titled album took the bluegrass world by storm, and Brothers finds Jamie and Darrin picking up right where they left off. As with their first record, the influence of the Statler Brothers is readily apparent as the duo covers "Years Ago", and after the wild success of gospel song "By the Mark", Dailey and Vincent can't be blamed for recording another Gillian Welch-penned number, "Winter's Come and Gone". However, if any song on Brothers is the successor to "By the Mark", it's closing track "On the Other Side", which finds the guys wondering about the afterlife: "On the other side / Do you ever see me cry? / Do you know how much I miss you / Wish I could have said goodbye." Juli Thanki

 

Artist: Steep Canyon Rangers

Album: Deep in the Shade

Label: Rebel

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/s/steepcanyonrangers-deepintheshade.jpg

Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2009-10-06

UK Release Date: 2009-10-06

Display as: List

List number: 9

This North Carolina quintet may be a fairly young band, but their star is rapidly on the rise. Produced by Ronnie Bowman, Deep in the Shade is the Rangers' fourth album, and also their strongest one to date thanks to well-written songs and sharp picking. Guitarist/frontman Woody Platt's smooth, radio-friendly vocals are a pleasure to hear, especially on standout track "Turn Up the Bottle", while fiddler Nicky Sanders showcases his considerable skill on the instrumental track "Mourning Dove". A cover of Merle Haggard's "I Must Be Somebody Else You've Known" rounds out a damn fine album. Having recently finished a tour (complete with Letterman appearance) backing their most famous fan, Steve Martin, the Steep Canyon Rangers have come a long way since 2006, when they received the IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year Award. Juli Thanki

 

Artist: Steve Martin

Album: The Crow

Label: Decca

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/s/stevemartin-thecrow.jpg

Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2009-05-19

UK Release Date: 2009-07-27

Display as: List

List number: 8

The Crow was an album several decades in the making, since Steve Martin has been kinda busy these past 30 years. It was certainly worth the wait. Martin alternates between clawhammer and Scruggs-style picking, delivering captivating instrumentals and clever lyrics. Martin only sings on one track, "Late for School", a fantastic tale reminiscent of Shel Silverstein's children's poetry. However, he does enlist the help of a few top-notch singers, including Dolly Parton and Vince Gill on the sweetly romantic "Pretty Flowers". It's not traditional bluegrass, but it's not an album to overlook. Juli Thanki

 

Artist: Patty Loveless

Album: Mountain Soul II

Label: Saguaro Road

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/p/pattyloveless-mountainsoul2.jpg

Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2009-09-29

UK Release Date: 2009-09-28

Display as: List

List number: 7

Loveless had trepidations about the high expectations inherent in calling her new album a sequel to Mountain Soul, the 2001 string-band about-face that pulled her away from mainstream country and earned her an explosion of critical acclaim and new roots-music fans. She needn't have worried -- Mountain Soul II is every bit as satisfying as its predecessor. It's a generous set that features ace standards (the traditional “Working on a Building” and a reworking of Harlan Howard's “Busted”, among others), but also showcases Loveless's newfound songwriting voice on songs like “Big Chance”, which easily stacks up with those classics. And, as always, Loveless demonstrates why she is one of the genre's most stirring and instinctive singers, on both the record's sweeping country ballads and barn-burning bluegrass rippers. Steve Leftridge

 

Artist: Bryan Sutton and Friends

Album: Almost Live

Label: Sugar Hill

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/features_art/b/bryansutton-almostlive.jpg

Display Width: 200

US Release Date: 2009-07-14

UK Release Date: 2009-08-17

Display as: List

List number: 6

Sutton is the current guitar champ in the bluegrass pantheon of super-pickers, and his dazzling new album is loaded with astonishing displays of virtuosity, including “Big Island Hornpipe”, with Sutton trading foxy runs with mandolin savant Chris Thile and banjo powerhouse Noam Pikelny, and the Bela Fleck duet “Five Straw Suite”, a tangle of complex time signatures, impossible chord progressions, and spidery arpeggios. This kind of abstruse plonking might give casual bluegrass fans and purists pause, but the album takes a traditional shift to Hot Rize (“Church Street Blues”), swing (“Le Pont De La Moustache” -- check out Sutton's solo on this one: Lord have mercy), a guitar duo (the gentle “Dark Island” with Russ Barenberg), and an old-tyme clogger (“Wonder Valley Girls”, with Stuart Duncan and Tim O'Brien). For those interested in a consummate document of today's preeminent acoustic instrumentalists, among whom Sutton's place is secure, Almost Live is an indispensable set. Steve Leftridge

 

Next Page

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image