Miles and Miles of Bluegrass Tunes

Red HenryFolks, as you can tell from reading our blog for the last week or two, Murphy and I went over to Nashville last week for the big International Bluegrass convention. We had a great time at the Trade Show and FanFest (more about that later!), but I've been thinking about the good trip home I had, and thought I'd talk about that.

Murphy and I were in Nashville on different schedules. I was in Nashville for the first part of the week, and drove home to Winchester on Friday afternoon and evening. Now, I usually don't drive a lot in the dark (especially for much of a 10-hour trip), but in this case it was no problem. I had a lot of CDs in the car, and listened to a bunch of them. Here's a selection:

1. Nancy Pate, "Georgia in the Middle of June" --- Murphy's sister Nancy recorded this CD a few years ago with Murphy playing mandolin, Casey playing bass and banjo and our brother-in-law Mike Johnson playing fiddle. The disc features mostly Nancy's original music, with a few numbers by Louisa Branscomb, Nancy's bandmate at the time. The music is what you might call "gentle bluegrass," but with a great deal of originality and feeling. Possibly the most evocative numbers are Nancy's "Pray for Rain" and "A Slower Road," along with Louisa's "For Every Day that You Die Young." Nancy also reprised her old composition "Two of a Kind," as well as giving her own take on Murphy's "M&M Blues" (with Casey playing am excellent Scruggs-style break). Very enjoyable listening.

2. Woods and Bridges, "On the Right Track" --- Our old Florida friends Bill Baker and John and Joanne Rose and their band released this CD about a year ago. It covers a good selection of standard bluegrass, along with quite a bit of bluegrass gospel. I especially like Bill's mandolin work on "Working on a Building" and "The Old Crossroad," because he played bass with us for three years in the 1980s and I didn't even know he played mandolin at all! John Rose plays solid guitar and knows more Carter Stanley songs than anyone I know--- and is the subject of a story we tell on stage, about how he became a bluegrass fanatic! This CD is pleasant and entertaining.

3. Casey and Chris and the Two-Stringers, "Get Along Girl" -- This well-produced 2006 CD features a great deal of excellent original music, along with carefully-selected material from other groups. The CD starts with a high-powered version of Nancy's Two Hands on the Wheel," and Casey adds intense renditions of "Sound I Hear" and "Sweet Heaven in My View." Christopher contributes several really excellent original songs, including "Walking' West to Memphis," "One Foot in the Graveyard," and "Pitiful Life." If you like new bluegrass with a fresh approach that's solidly grounded in traditional bluegrass, you'd like this CD.

4. The Stanley Brothers: "Clinch Mountain Bluegrass" -- This disc is a collection of old tapes from the Newport Folk Festival, where the Stanley Brothers performed long ago, breaking new ground for bluegrass with the northern folk audience. My favorite is their set from the 1959 festival, where their fiddler Chubby Anthony (21 years old) absolutely raises the roof with their set-opener "Orange Blossom Special,"  and then proceeds to burn the place down with his breaks on "How Mountain Girls can Love" and "Choo-Choo Coming." The performances are a bit spotty overall, but the CD reflect the band's live performances of that era perfectly.

5. The Doc Watson Family, "Songs from the Southern Mountains" -- This CD, from tapes recorded many years ago, reveals an immensely talented traditional-music family centered on Doc Watson himself, already a star in the early 1960s. Included are some archaic but moving gospel numbers such as "Twilight is Stealing" and "Lonely Tombs," old-time instrumentals like "Brown's Dream" by Gaither Carlton and Doc, and Doc by himself on solo numbers like "Fisher's Hornpipe" (harmonica and guitar) and my favorite, a seemingly simple but amazing rendition of "Grandfather's Clock." If you need modern "slick bluegrass" to listen to, look elsewhere. This CD is terrific!

and finally...

6. Chris Henry, demos and working-tapes for a never-released CD, this disc dated 9-7-2003. This CD included about 30 numbers, and on most of it Chris played every instrument himself. Most of the material was traditional bluegrass, but Chris contributed several good originals such as "Murphy’s' Favorite," an Irish-style jig. He and I also sang and played some mandolin-guitar duets on the disc, four of which were eventually released on my "Helton Creek" project. We also did some very obscure bluegrass such as Monroe's tune "Land of Lincoln" and the Stanleys' "Your Selfish Heart." I can't say for you to go out and get this disc, because the project was never finished and most of it was eventually lost in a hard-drive crash, but listening to it was a pleasure.

--and I made it back to Winchester safely in light traffic in 9 hours and 19 minutes, a personal record. You can understand why, with all this excellent entertainment!