Blue Grass Special in Country Music People

The October 2017 edition of the long-standing British glossy publication Country Music People (CMP) is noted as a Blue Grass Special edition, the first time in my memory that the magazine has been devoted to the genre.

The cover features the new Queen of Bluegrass Music, Rhonda Vincent, her Gibson mandolin in hand. In the six-page article including a two-page photographic spread she talks to magazine editor Duncan Warwick. A side-bar lists some of the awards that Vincent and her band the Rage has taken from The Recording Academy (the Grammys®), IBMA, and SPBGMA. With 89 awards from SPBGMA alone it’s an impressive, albeit general, rather than specific list.

Vincent comments about her musical upbringing that puts her comfortably in the traditional county music field, via her own attempts to have a career as a country music singer with her solo record releases and her collaborations with Gene Watson and, more recently with Daryle Singletary, as much as it does in the traditional bluegrass music field.

Perhaps it is not surprising that it is to the Vincent-Singletary July (2017) release, American Grandstand (Upper Management Music), rather than a bluegrass music CD, that the magazine points readers ultimately.

The special selections begin with Tom Travis’s Fundamentals of Bluegrass, a personal review of the music throughout its ups and downs over what is now almost 80 years of amazing music that was originally cloaked under the umbrella of county music. Splitting his overview into three generations; Travis, who began his own career in the music in the 1960s as a member of the Double T Ramblers trio, charts the period from 1939 to 1954; and 1955 to 1986, but he is still waiting for the music to move on from 1987. There is much to debate there, I think.

He references ten essential recordings from The High, Lonesome Sound from Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass <sic> Boys; the eponymous LP from the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys; Foggy Mountain Jamboree from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs; Folk Songs and Bluegrass by The Country Gentlemen; and cites albums by The Seldom Scene, JD Crowe and the New South (Rounder 0044), The Johnson Mountain Boys, Alison Krauss and Union Station, concluding with Chris Thile’s How to Grow a Woman.

Duncan Warwick meets bluegrass music legend Doyle Lawson for a chat noting Lawson’s 50 years in the business. Warwick skims through Lawson’s career to discuss the latter’s latest release Life is a Story and Lawson’s thinking when considering material for an album. Lawson speaks of his love of George Jones’ singing and his song Love Lives Again, Lawson’s recording of which Warwick describes as “a stunning rendition”.

Lawson goes on to talk about his broad interest in music, citing the music on his iPod including the voices of Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Band; Fats Domino; the Sons of the Pioneers; Sam Cooke; and Django Reinhardt, even referencing a song by Taylor Swift that he thinks “would be good for me”. Lawson never has been afraid of having a country music slant in his recordings.

Of course, Lawson does write songs himself, but only when the inspiration strikes, but then it can take as little as 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

He talks of having disciplined group members and work ethic, before going onto speak of not standing still in his music but always being aware of its roots, the traditions and boundaries.

He concludes by evaluating the current state of bluegrass music and whether the genre has retained its core values. His sage advice is for the song to be about subjects to which the listener can relate, while keeping the music intact. In other words, follow my example.

Elsewhere there was a feature on veteran Mac Wiseman, still recording at the age of 92, so confirms Walt Trott, who acted as the reporter for Wiseman’s memoirs, All My Memories Fit For Print. The recording in question was the duet with Alison Krauss of his signature song ‘Tis Sweet To Be Remembered for the tribute CD, I Sang The Song: Life of the Voice with the Heart, recorded in the Fall of 2016, recalling the 1946 session playing bass with the legendary Molly O’Day.

Contrastingly, at the other end of the age spectrum is Summer Brooke, the 24-year-old lead singer, fiddle player and the one who does the most emcee work in the Mountain Faith Band. She features in this edition of CMP in one of the regular Nice to meet y’all columns.

Mountain Faith were an overnight success (after 15 years of striving) in the summer of 2015 due to NBC’s entertainment program, America’s Got Talent.

The feature reflects on the journey through America’s Got Talent stages, and the audience reaction which has driven the group’s development since then. Having captured the hearts and minds of those watching on TV in addition to those in the auditorium with the bluegrass instrumentation of pop songs.

Summer Brooke and the Mountain Faith Band’s success on the America’s Got Talent show has subsequently driven the decision to release a country music version of Small Town Life as well as what the group’s website calls a ‘Special Acoustic Version’.

The busy Duncan Warwick spoke to singer, song-writer, producer and classical guitarist Thomm Jutz, who had to pay his dues in his early years in Nashville, he confesses, before, as Warwick points out, referencing Jutz’s Civil War inspired 1861 Project brought Jutz greater recognition as the three volumes involved the participation of a considerable number of singers and musicians, one of whom was friend Peter Cooper.

From there Jutz and Cooper helped to convert Mac Wiseman’s evocative stories of his life into song, providing a complementary commentary on Wiseman’s CD, I Sang The Song: Life of the Voice with the Heart.

They conclude their discussion speaking of the contact with Mountain Fever Records, the label that released I Sang The Song … , that later brought about Jutz’s solo album, Crazy If You Let It.

The final part of the Blue Grass Special brings attention to Gangstagrass who, by name and by style, are completely new to me. Bluegrass music mixed with Hip-Hop, the sound conceived in 2006 by Brooklyn-based producer Rench, is what the Gangstagrass is all about.

For Rench, “There is no purity. All American music is an evolution of combining other kinds of music into new forms”. He admits to feeling uncomfortable about there not being any other acts following in their footsteps. I wonder.

As you can see, Country Music People has covered a broad spectrum of the bluegrass music genre this month.

The magazine also includes remembrances for Don Williams, a very big British favorite, and for Troy Gentry, who tragically died in a helicopter crash, passing away on the same day as Williams.

Good job, well done!

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.