Category Archives: JamGrass.net Recommends

JamGrass.net Recommends: The Travelin’ McCourys

Comprised of 4/5ths of The Del McCoury Band and 1/5th whatever else is thrown their way, The Travelin’ McCourys are simultaneously plugged into the traditional bluegrass and progressive scenes. Joining together over twenty-four years as members of The Del McCoury Band, the Travelin’ McCourys have been touring together since 2005.

The current iteration of the band has been together since 2005. Ronnie McCoury joined his father as a Dixie Pal in 1981. Rob McCoury first joined as a bass player but has been on banjo since 1987. Jason Carter, joining in 1992, added what has become one of the world’s premier fiddle talents. Alan Bartram was the final piece of the current configuration, joining the group in 2005.

TheTravelinMcCourys.com hints at the band’s crossover success, particularly in the jam scene. Having performed with the Allman Brothers, PHISH, the Lee Boys, Keller Williams, and at Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam, the foursome isn’t afraid to pick with the best and explore the space in music.

“We like to go in and play traditional bluegrass music the way we do it with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out. If we need to plug in, we’ll plug in. We’re open to anything.” Ronnie McCoury, TheTravelinMcCourys.com

Yonder Mountain String Band and The Travelin’ McCourys are currently on tour together. The Travelin’ McCourys will open each evening and Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter will sit-in with headliners YMSB as mandolin player Jeff Austin sits out this tour to welcome his new baby daughter into the world. Check out the tour and the JamGrass.net Recommends segment on YMSB.

Studio releases of The Travelin’ McCourys in the current lineup are with Del McCoury or 2012’s Pick with Keller Williams. Check out the Spotify playlist below for previews and be sure to shop for tracks by The Travelin’ McCoury’s and their friends using JamGrass.net’s List at Amazon.com. Proceeds help support this site!

Favorites From 2013

Favorites_From_2013With the new year approaching, JamGrass.net takes a moment to reflect on some of our favorite releases from 2013. Scroll to the bottom for a Spotify preview of select tracks from most of the releases and order tracks, albums or anything you want by using the list JamGrass.net’s Favorites from 2013 through the Amazon.com Associate Program. Today is the last day of our effort to collect for the Tony Rice Foundation, so 100% of our proceeds from purchases made at Amazon.com today will be donated to Mr. Rice.

Let us hear about your favorite albums of 2013!

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Alan Jackson, The Bluegrass Album – Georgia’s country music icon dips his iconic hat into bluegrass.

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Cabinet, This Is Cabinet Set II – Pennsylvania’s Cabinet blends the energy of their live performances into their fifth release.

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Chris Thile, Bach: Sonatas And Partitas, Vol. 1Mandolin master pays homage to Bach, the first composer in the classical world to which he had significant exposure.

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David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, Muddy RoadsJamgrass pioneer Grisman tips his cap to the old-time music of Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson.

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The Deadly Gentlemen, Roll Me, Tumble MeThe Massachusetts quintet delivers playful acoustic music with bluegrass roots on the third release.

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The Del McCoury Band, The Streets of BaltimoreBluegrass legend delivers an album as seductive as any in his impressive catalog, aided by his sons and friends.

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Dirty River Ramblers, Ramble OnNewcomers from Omaha, this debut release of originals hints at the old time and jam rock sensibilities of the band.

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Doc Watson, The Definitive Doc Watson A compilation of 34 tracks from the late guitarist’s Vanguard and Sugar Hill sessions.

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Donna The Buffalo, Tonight, Tomorrow & YesterdayRoots-music veterans weave “traditional mountain music infused with Cajun, rock, folk, reggae and contry” into their 10th album, first in five years.

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Floodwood, This is LifeMembers of jam titan moe. join forces with equally talented bluegrass artists, delivering something uniquely jamgrass.

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Henhouse Prowlers, Breaking Ground On the Chicago bands 4th album, the band brings a fuller sound and more mature songwriting.

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Jesse Cobb, SolitudeFormer Infamous Stringdusters front man goes completely solo on his debut release.

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The Leadfoot Band, The Leadfoot Band – Original tracks from the Chicago band, but with the fast new grass style they’ve always had.

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Leftover Salmon, Four Singles Released With Breckenridge Brewery Releasing four singles in partnership with Breckenridge Brewery, Leftover Salmon continues to pump out some great tunes.

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Noam Pikelny, Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill MonroeNoam interprets fiddler Kenny’s parts from the 1976 release Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe on banjo plays, backed by an all star support group.

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Peter Rowan, The Old SchoolA great album anchored by a handful of standout tracks by one of bluegrass music’s icons.

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Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby Live, Cluck Ol’ HenSkaggs and Hornsby release a collection of recordings from a previous tour, proving the mandolin and keys can work together to make the world a better place.

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Seven Handle Circus, Live At Terminal West The Georgia band delivers “badass bluegrass” in their second release, recorded live at one of Atlanta’s newest music venues.

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The Steeldrivers, Hammer DownEverything these folks do is great and Hammer Down is no exception.

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Steep Canyon Rangers, Tell The Ones I LoveA diverse album from one of the modern bluegrass darlings.

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Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, Memories And Moments A beautiful collection from this dynamic duo.

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Trampled By Turtles, Live At First AvenueThe energy of the Minnesota’s bands live performances adds spice to some of their finest songs.

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The Wayfarers, Breaking Old Ground Continuing in the tradition of 2012’s Fire On The Hillside, the Ohio quintet delivers fiddle-driven mountain music with tasteful vocals.

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Yarn, Shine The Light OnA solid Americana/Alt-Country release from the Brooklyn-based outfit, tickled with bluegrass-inspired mandolin runs.

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Yonder Mountain String Band, Ymsb Ep13 A four song EP from the studio that manages to capture the spirit of the band’s live shows.

JamGrass.net Recommends – Tony Rice

Rice_Grisman_GarciaOriginal Publish Date 12/9/2013

UPDATED 12/12/2013

JamGrass.net, as the tagline says, covers music “at the corner of bluegrass and everything else.” That means that sometimes I’ll cover music that is too traditionally bluegrass for some folks’ tastes and too progressive for others. My guitar instructor, slightly more advanced in experience (and age), would probably kick my ass and tell me to get a haircut if he found this site. There is some music that members of the old school will never embrace as bluegrass. Likewise, some members of the newer generation might struggle to enjoy the more traditional sounds that ultimately shape their preferences.

Then there is Tony Rice. Blending elements of bluegrass, jazz, and singer-songwriter stylings, Mr. Rice has been redefining bluegrass music for more than 40-years. The bluegrass community bestowed one of its greatest honors upon Tony, inducting him into the IBMA’s Hall of Fame earlier this year. I could go on and on about Mr. Rowan’s bluegrass chops but that has been covered many times over. Instead, I’ll focus on why he’s relevant to the JamGrass.net audience.

Mr. Rice’s exposure to the progressive side of bluegrass started early in his career as a member of J.D. Crowe’s New South, one of the first successful bluegrass groups to introduce drums and electric instrumentation into their performances. Nonetheless, it was Tony’s relationship with David Grisman that likely had the greatest influence on his explorations of the space of bluegrass. As a member of the David Grisman Quintet, Rice studied under John Carlini, learning music theory, jazz and principles of music improvisation.

After leaving David Grisman’s band, Rice truly began to show his range. His solo albums often seem to reflect his interest in singer-songwriter/almost country recordings, Bluegrass Album Band presented mostly interpretations on traditional bluegrass offerings, and the Tony Rice Unit seemed to be his vehicle for exploring the outer reaches of the genre.

Fast forward to 1993 and you’ll find what was my first introduction to Mr. Rice. It was during this time that Rice collaborated with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, following an introduction by Grisman. The story goes that Rice and Grisman were at a studio recording when Grisman asked Garcia to join in. The raw, unpolished recordings became known as The Pizza Tapes after Garcia’s recording was stolen by a pizza delivery man and began showing up at Grateful Dead performances. Sadly, Garcia would pass in 1995, The Pizza Tapes being released posthumously.

Personally, some of my favorite recordings of the past decade have been those published with Peter Rowan. In particular 2007’s Quartet features some inspired playing from both Mr. Rice and Mr. Rowan. The whole album is a joy and a must-have.

Unfortunately, the latter years of Tony Rice’s career have not given his audience the opportunity to express the gratitude he most certainly deserves. In the 90’s a case of dysphonia took his voice. In 2011 a wicked case of pneumonia and its treatment weakened him to the point that performances were cancelled and his touring schedule has lessened significantly ever since. On Friday, December 6th, I read some of the most disturbing news I’d read in a while. It appears that arthritis has taken a toll on Mr. Rice to the point that he is unable to play his guitar.

John Lawless of BluegrassToday.com writes…

“Tony Rice, perhaps the most influential acoustic musician of his generation, is facing hard times. Most everyone reading this will be aware that he lost the ability to sing some years ago, and those who have read his brilliant biography, Still Inside, know that he had expressed little concern, finding a sort of freedom in being able to focus solely on the guitar. But this past year or so has found arthritis robbing him of that as well, leaving this legendary guitarist unable to ply his trade. Not only is that a painful loss to music lovers world wide, it has stolen from Tony his means to earn a living. At first he attempted to soldier on, playing through pain, but as even that became difficult, he has had to cancel the shows that were booked.”

In a perfectly worded call-to-action, Mr. Lawless encourages the bluegrass community to rally around Tony Rice in an effort “to repay a debt we owe this great artist who has shared so much joy with us over a long and fruitful creative life.” The Tony Rice Foundation is accepting donations for Tony and his wife Pam, and Mr. Lawson suggests investing in the Tony Rice catalog, instructional DVDs, or official biography as additional ways to help. I ordered an autographed copy of the biography for myself.

Further, JamGrass.net will donate 100% of our proceeds from purchases made through our site via the Amazon.com Associate Program from now until the end of December 2013. You can explore Mr. Rice’s complete catalog, order from our recommended playlist, order material from any other artist we’ve covered, or simply do something Christmas shopping after linking from any of the Amazon links we’ve listed to date. Amazon is generous in that any item purchased from an affiliate link earns commission, so feel free to order this $30,000 watch from Armand Nicolet if you feel so inclined. Plus, Amazon is a great company and nearly always exceeds my expectations.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you take the opportunity to enjoy some of the music from Mr. Rice’s catalog. He’s a musical blessing not to be missed.

How Can You Help?

Remember, all of JamGrass.net’s proceeds generated from the Amazon.com Associate Program from now to the end of December 2013 will be donated to The Tony Rice Foundation!

UPDATED 12/12/2013

BluegrassToday.com has posted an updated with more details in a new article by Mr. John Lawless, “Tony Rice fund update”:

  • The fund is setup by Jeff and Terry Pinkham, friends of Mr. Rice. Bluegrass Today is helping publicize the venture.
  • The Tony Rice Foundation is not a legal structure and donations are not tax deductible. It is strictly a PayPal account with all proceeds (less the PayPal fees) being transferred directly to Mr. Rice’s bank account.
  • The fund has been a success. More than $17,000 has been contributed to date. Mr. Lawless has stated he would like to see it at $50,000 before the end of the year.

JamGrass.net is still committed to donating 100% of our proceeds in December 2013 from purchases made through links by our Amazon Associate Program account. We’ve had a few orders, keep ’em coming!

 

JamGrass.Net Recommends – Carolina Chocolate Drops

Carolina_Chocolate_DropsOriginal Publish Date 12/6/2013

Editor’s Note

Carolina Chocolate Drops is a band I can listen to at just about anytime. Most of their songs have a certain familiar quality to them. Tonight at the Variety Playhouse, I’ll only be seeing them for the second time. Unfortunately, it will be my last – at least in their current iteration. The band will replace a founding member and say goodbye to a regular guest following their current tour. If you’re near Atlanta, Asheville, Knoxville, or Charlotte you should get out and see the band while you can. If not, be sure to catch the next generation of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I’m sure they won’t disappoint.

Overview

  • Calling Durham, NC home, the Carolina Chocolate Drops began to take form at 2005’s Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC.
  • The bands core sound is old time fiddle and banjo music, though blues, jazz, and folks have become increasingly common in their originals and covers.
  • The bands concerts often have an educational message, particularly about the history of the pieces performed or the role African-Americans played in the development of the music.
  • 2010’s Genuine Negro Jig earned the group their first Grammy, in the Best Traditional Folk Album category.

Members

  • Rhiannon Giddens – Founding member; 5-string banjo, fiddle, kazoo
  • Dom Flemons – Founding member announced his departure from the band to pursue a solo career following the Winter 2013 tour; 4-string banjo, guitar, jug, harmonica, kazoo, snare drum, bones, quills
  • Hubby Jenkins – Joined in 2011; guitar, mandolin, 5-string banjo, bones
  • Malcom Parson – Joining as a full time member in 2014; Cello
  • Rowan Corbett – Joining as a full time member in 2014; guitar, bones, snare drum, cajon, djembe
  • Leyla McCalla – Regular guest, the band announced McCalla will be pursuing a solo career after the Winter 2013 tour; Cello
  • Adam Matta – Left as a regular member after 2011; Beatbox, tambourine
  • Justin Robinson – Left as a full time member in 2011; Fiddle

Essential Links

Support This Site: Buy MP3s and Albums through the Amazon.com Associate Program using the links below! Previews below courtesy of Spotify.

 

 

JamGrass.net Recommends – Packway Handle Band

Packway_Handle_Band
Original Publish Date 12/6/2013

Editor’s Note

Emerging from the town of my college years, Athens’ Packway Handle Band has been impressing fans of traditional and progressive bluegrass/gospel with their brand of uptempo string music since 2001. On Saturday December 7th, 2013, they visit the intimate Eddie’s Attic.

Overview

  • Bluegrass quintet emerging from Athens, GA in 2001.
  • Presents traditional and progressive bluegrass, typically around a couple of condenser mics presenting three- and four- part vocal harmonies.
  • Finalists for three consecutive years in the Tellureide Bluegrass Festival’s Band Competition, they’ve been voted Best Bluegrass Band by Flagpole Magazine and won the Miller Lite “Locals Only” Battle of the Bands in 2003.
  • Has performed with Ralph Stanley, Yonder Moutain String Band, Donna The Buffalo, Larry Keel, and Confederate Railroad.

Members

  • Tom Baker – banjo, vocals
  • Josh Erwin – guitar, vocals
  • Andrew Heaton – fiddle, vocals
  • Zach McCoy – bass
  • Michael Paynter – mandolin, vocals

Essential Links

Support This Site: Buy MP3s and Albums through the Amazon.com Associate Program using the links below! Previews below courtesy of Spotify.

 

 

JamGrass.net Recommends – Railroad Earth

Railroad_Earth

Original Publish Date 11/22/2013

Editor’s Note

Railroad Earth is one of my favorite bands. Unlike some bands we’ll cover on this site, I have no doubt they could become one of your favorite bands. Their foundation is the songs. Their sound blends the best of many genres and has more crossover, mainstream potential than some of the bands more solidly rooted in bluegrass. Lets put it this way: I usually try to limit these features to twenty of twenty-five songs. With Railroad Earth I had a hard time getting it down to thirty-one.

Why feature Railroad Earth now? Lead songwriter, vocalist and acoustic guitarist Todd Scheaffer is on a solo tour and playing just down the street from my house at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta on Sunday. Also of note, the band started taking pre-orders for their new album, Last of the Outlaws, due January 14, 2014. You can listen to samples here.

Overview

  • Railroad Earth formed in 2001 out of Stillwater, New Jersey.
  • One of their first performances took place at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
  • Five of six band members are founders.
  • Songs feature high-quality lyrical content, blend bluegrass/rock/jazz/celtic, and lead singer Todd Sheaffer’s voices is one of the best in the business.
  • Live performances are a trademark, with top-flight musicians lending instrumental prowess to live improvisation and some of the best lighting/visual effects around.

Members

  • Todd Sheaffer – Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
  • Tim Carbone – Violin, Electric Guitar
  • John Skehan – Mandolin, Bouzouki
  • Andy Goessling – Acoustic Guitar, Banjo, Dobro, Mandolin, Lap Steel, Flute, Pennywhistle, Saxophone
  • Carey Harmon – Percussion
  • Andrew Altman – Bass

Associated Acts

Essential Links

Support This Site: Buy MP3s and Albums through the Amazon.com Associate Program using the links below! Previews below courtesy of Spotify.

JamGrass.net Recommends – Grateful Grass

RexNightfall_WebSmall

On the evening of December 7, 2013, The Rex Foundation will host Nightfall of Diamonds at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Emerging as the Grateful Dead’s charitable overseers, The Rex Foundation is a worthy charity that has done a lot of great things for a lot of great people. The benefit concert will feature collaborations from Keller Williams, Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident), Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band), Keith Moseley (String Cheese Incident), and Tim (The Rhythm Devils) & Nicki Bluhm. While there is no doubt that the audience will be treated to Grateful Dead tunes throughout the evening, the real treat here is the return of Grateful Grass.

Grateful Grass is the brainchild of Williams, an opportunity for deadhead numero uno to do his best Jerry Garcia. With Williams on guitar, he’ll be reunited with Austin (mandolin) and Mosley (bass). Kang is a welcome new addition and cements their status as a supergroup. The only other performance was released as Keller’s thirteenth album, Rex. Recorded during a 2006 benefit at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, proceeds from the release also go to support The Rex Foundation.

The band explodes into the opening track, “One More Saturday Night,” and emotions never really let up from there. Keller and Austin compliment one another extremely well, both bringing much more enthusiasm to a performance than should be legal. There is no shortage of exuberant screams on this album. “Eyes of the World” gives the musicians an opportunity to stretch their strings, as both Keller and Austin take some hot leads.

A personal favorite on the album, “Loose Lucy” is really the song that expanded my interest to Jeff Austin. His vocal style resembles the holler familiar to New Grass Revival fans and he works the melodic and percussive elements of the mandolin to perfection. Following Grateful Dead anchors “St. Stephen” and preceding the Mosley-led “Casey Jones,” Keller takes a moment to address the audience.

“Wow. So this is totally surreal for me to be able to play this kind of music, with these kinds of people in front of this kind of an audience… Hell, yeah! My hands are killing me!”

The audience agrees and explodes into an appreciative roar. To have been in the audience on this evening must have been a real treat and you can sense a near ecstasy in their fervor. They can be heard throughout the recording, adding to the energy and never distracting. The mix is great.

Another personal favorite, “Brown Eyed Woman” receives the unique Keller treatment, while “Bird Song” really compliments his voice. By the time the album reaches its conclusion of “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire on the Mountain,” the lyrical question “you gave all you had, how could you possibly give anymore” is fitting of the performance.

For the deadheads or folks interested in progressive bluegrass, Rex is a no-brainer. Is the performance flawless? No. Is it perfect? Yes. I can’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be on December 7, 2013 than in San Francisco for Grateful Grass part deux.

Support The Rex Foundation and buy Rex from LiveDownloads.com. 100% of proceeds support The Rex Foundation!

JamGrass.net Recommends – Leftover Salmon

LoS_Fall2013_BySusanJWeiandPhoto8x12-high-res3-900x600

Why You Should Know Them

  • Significant influencers in Colorado’s music scene that gained national exposure on the H.O.R.D.E. tour of the early 90’s, Leftover Salmon has been a JamGrass torch-bearer for nearly 25-years
  • Coined the term “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass” to describe their music, a mix of bluegrass, rock, country, and cajun/zydeco
  • Rotating lineup consistently attracts top-notch musicians built around the core of Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt
  • Tragically lost founding-member Mark Vann to skin cancer at the too-young age of 39
  • The late 90’s edition featuring Herman, Emmitt, Vann, Tye North (bass) and Jeff Sipe (drums) was considered the essential line-up, though collaborations with Andy Thorn, Greg Garrison (bass), and Jose Martinez or Alwyn Robinson on drums have propelled the band’s new material

Trademarks

  • Mixing musical styles
  • Emmitt’s mutli-instrument perfection (mandolin, electric guitar, fiddle)
  • Playing fast
  • Herman’s stage presence
  • Collaborations and attracting top-flight musicians
  • FESTIVAL!, most notably their near-residency in Telluride Bluegrass Festival
  • Promoting the banjo as an “electric” instrument

Associated Acts

Essential Links

Support This Site: Buy MP3s and Albums through the Amazon.com Associate Program using the links below! Previews below the table, courtesy of Spotify.

JamGrass.net Recommends - Leftover Salmon Albums & MP3s

Buy TracksBuy Albums
Lovin' In My Baby's EyesThe Nashville Sessions
Midnight BluesThe Nashville Sessions
Highway SongEuphoria
Breakin' ThruThe Nashville Sessions
Are You Sure Hank Done It This TimeThe Nashville Sessions
Aquatic HitchhikerAquatic Hitchhiker
Pasta On The MountainBridges To Bert
Bend In The RiverAsk The Fish
Out In The WoodsLive
Unplug That TelephoneLive
Troubled TimesThe Nashville Sessions
Up On The Hill Where We Do The BoogieThe Nashville Sessions
Gulf of MexicoAquatic Hitchhiker
Funky Mountain FogdownEuphoria
When The Levee BreaksAsk The Fish
Baby Hold OnEuphoria
Sing Up to the MoonAquatic Hitchhiker
Five AliveThe Nashville Sessions
Steam Powered AereoplaneLive
Lonesome RoadAsk The Fish
Whiskey Before Breakfast/Over The WaterfallBridges To Bert
Ain't Gonna WorkEuphoria
BetterEuphoria
Muddy Water HomeEuphoria
Kentucky SkiesAquatic Hitchhiker

Leftover Salmon’s Artist Page at Amazon.com

NOTE: Leftover Salmon released four stand-out tracks in conjunction with Breckenridge Brewery in the second half of 2013. At the time this post was published, the tracks were only available through LiveSalmon.com and iTunes.

JamGrass.net Recommends – Trampled by Turtles

trampled_by_turtles

EDITOR’S NOTE: Trampled by Turtles has released their first live album, the excellent Live at First Avenue, on the date of this publication, Monday 11/11/2013. They’ll be kicking off their fall tour in Athens, GA the next day.

Why You Should Know Them

  • Emerging from Duluth, MN in 2003, Trampled by Turtles traded in their electric instruments for acoustic instruments, likely one of the few touring bands with traditional instrumentation to cite The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Nirvana as inspiration.
  • Crossover appeal. One of the few bands covered by JamGrass.net that has experienced more mainstream commercial success, including Billboard chart recognition and appearances on television.

Trademarks

  • Live performances.
  • Fast-picking, high-energy rockers and sweeping ballads create an interesting contrast from track-to-track.
  • Lyrical content and songwriting that position Trampled by Turtles as a titan in alt-bluegrass.
  • Four-part harmonies.

Associated Acts

  • Dave Simonett – Guitar player and guitarist.
  • Tim Saxhaug – Bass player and thunder bringer.
  • Dave Carroll – Five string banjo, keeps the band rolling.
  • Erik Berry – Mandolin player, not the starting safety for the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Ryan Young – Fiddle extraordinaire.

Essential Links

TrampledByTurtles.com – Official site, includes biography,  media, merch and tour dates.
Trampled by Turtles’ Wikipedia Page – A little more detail and background.
Trampled by Turtles’ Official Facebook Page – You know you “like” it.
Trampled by Turtles’ Official Twitter Feed – Follow. All of the kids are doing it.
Trampled by Turtles’ Archive.org Catalog – Free live shows available for download.

Support This Site: Buy MP3s and Albums through the Amazon.com Associate Program using the links below! Previews courtesy of Spotify.

Trampled By Turtles’ Artist Page on Amazon.com

 

JamGrass.net Recommends – Classic by Larry

Support JamGrass.net and Buy Larry Keel & Natural Bridge’s Classic at Amazon.com

Some people might ask, “why review an album from 2012?” I’d give them four reasons. Number one, this is my site and I can do what I want. Number two, this segment is about things JamGrass.net recommends, and without this album JamGrass.net might not even exist. Number three, this site isn’t necessarily just aimed at the JamGrass aficionado but also seeks to bring new people to the artists we cover. Finally, number four: Classic by Larry Keel & Natural Bridge is one of my favorite albums of all time.

The opening track, “Love” includes a powerful guitar lead-in from Larry Keel and the second line of the song beckons us to “hit the road at a steady run,” which is precisely what Classic does. An aggressive mandolin break leads to a nice exchange with the banjo. The whole song is simply pure pleasure. The unassuming ending seems out of place in context with the song but leads perfectly into the second track, “Take the Time,” which includes some nice harmonizing work on the part of Jenny Keel, Mr. Keel’s wife and Natural Bridge bass player. The frantic pace of “Love” contrasts nicely with the Sunday-groove of “Take the Time,” creating a great one-two punch to start the album. The guitar break around the two-and-a-half minute mark reminds folks that Keel is not just a flat-picking speed master but can control the emotion of his instrument with mastery.

“I’m No Doctor” has lyrics that hint at the blues, while Keel’s voice – unique in bluegrass – seems more comfortable on Classic than on his previous albums. It’s as if he’s become more confident in how to apply his voice appropriately. “B-Funk” demonstrates the artists’ mastery of their respective instruments. It has a barn-burning melody followed by a syncopated pop, familiar in the band’s catalog but a bit unique in the context of bluegrass. It is a standout instrumental track and showcases the talents not simply of Mr. Keel but also of Mark Schimick on mandolin and Will Lee on banjo.

A personal favorite, “Back up on the Mountain” is a slower number that highlights the vocal interplay of Larry and Jenny Keel. The lyrics tell the story of a man contrasting his thoughts about his mountain-community roots as an adolescent versus the present-day. Of all the songs on the album it feels the most honest and passionate.

“County Blues” allows the artists to seriously demonstrate their blues chops and Keel to show off his notorious vocal growl and vibrato. The line “a pretty little girl to fry all my fish and love me til the day I die” is old-time gold, and although penned by Doc Boggs, feels like it was written for Mr. Keel.

Next up, the six-string lead-in on “Fishing Reel” is marvelous. The song will soon be featured in the new Confluence Films release, “Waypoints.” Several songs on the album reflect Keel’s passion about the third love of his life, fishing, of course preceded by his wife and his guitar.

“How Can it Be Wrong” was included on the excellent Songs From the Road Band album, As The Crow Flies. A standout in that setting, it doesn’t disappoint on Classic, either. Regardless of your political beliefs (the song is about a farmer growing marijuana to save his farm), the track is a standout and should be an anthem for long-haired, bluegrass-types everywhere. Its pairing with the groove of the reggae cover “Put It On” creates a nice compliment to the album, both tracks sure to be favorites for most listeners the first time through.

Classic closes with a combo nearly as flawless as its opening. The golden rule inspired “Do Unto Others” revisits themes from the first two songs of the album, encouraging love, appreciation, and kindness to others. Positive tones ring throughout the album. This is a feel-good listen, closed by “Goose Lake Dreams,” the bands ode to the fishing grounds that plays host to a festival they headline annually.

Although Larry Keel has an impressive catalog, Classic stands out as a work-of-art. Other albums have plainly demonstrated the proficiency of Mr. Keel and of the other featured musicians, but Classic is full of great songs by great songwriters. Buy it and listen to it until you have every wonderful moment memorized.

DON’T FORGET: Support JamGrass.net and Buy Larry Keel & Natural Bridge’s Classic at Amazon.com! Need more convincing? Check out the reviews below.

Essential Reading

  • BluegrassToday.com (presents a much smarter review than I’m capable of, saying the album “take(s) traditional values and infuse(s) them with modern perspectives, butt(s) the sacred up against the secular, unite(s) the hippies with the squares, the stoned with the sober, and mix(es) the simple with the complex to create a microcosm of the broad spectrum of American music, as well as the collective American psyche in 2012 and all the contradictions contained therein.”
  • CyberGrass.com is also high on praise, stating “with Classic, Larry Keel and his band deliver one of the most powerful, expansive performances ever heard in Acoustic American music to date.”
  • GratefulWeb.com says Larry and Jenny Keel are “too creative to be called authentic yet too precise to be lumped in with newgrass or jambands, their music is simply non-duplicable.”