Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Truffle Valley Boys bring authentic bluegrass to Italy

Based in Italy, the Truffle Valley Boys are dedicated to preserving and bringing back the sounds of authentic 1950s bluegrass. The origins of the band can be traced to 2012 when fiddler, mandolin player, guitarist, and vocalist Matteo Ringressi was working as a duet in the north of Italy with guitarist and singer Ruben Minuto. “We performed in the old-time brother duet style, with some old-school bluegrass thrown in,” Ringressi explains. “One day, I got a surprise message from a banjo player from Isernia, in the Molise region of Italy, some 450 miles away. His name was Germano Ciavone, and he told me he had discovered us online, and was amazed there was someone else in Italy trying to play those styles. I was ecstatic myself…another guy in his early 20s who is interested in early bluegrass…in Italy!”

The two kept in touch, and the following year, Germano decided to visit Ringressi in his hometown of Forlì. “We had a great evening with food, drinks, and music,” Ringressi recalls. “We instantly knew we had a connection, both in our musical languages and personally.”

In April 2014, Minuto and Ringressi travelled to Molise to play a show, and Germano and his band, who had actually organized the event, shared the bill. “That’s how I met guitarist Denny Rocchio and bass player Emanuele Valente,” Ringressi continues. “They’re amazing musicians with an in-depth knowledge of the style. After jamming on stage with them, we knew we just had to form a band!”

(Minuto is no longer a full-time member of the band, but he still collaborates with the group at selected shows.)

Not surprisingly, the group is often asked about the name. “It always gets a chuckle out of people,” Ringressi admits. “While most people think of the Piemonte (Piedmont) region of northern Italy in regards to truffles, not many people know there is a huge presence of the coveted tuber further south. Indeed, when I first met Germano, and he told me he had truffles growing out of the ground in his garden, I really couldn’t believe it…I ate so much truffle during that first visit in 2014, I never questioned anything he said ever since!”

Naturally, the name was a natural. “Following the tradition of ‘geographically relevant’ band names, we felt that Truffle Valley Boys was perfectly fitting.”

That said, Ringressi offers a clear explanation as far as their sound is concerned.

“Since day one, when me and Germano found we both knew the song Nashville Jail from Larry Richardson and Happy Smith’s 45RPM record on Blue Ridge label, we’ve had a clear mission, to bring back the sound of 1950s bluegrass music without compromises. That said, our goal isn’t to copy any particular band of the past note-for-note, but rather to incorporate as much of the musical lexicon of the legends of that era as humanly possible, and then mix and match it with our own sensibilities.”

In fact, the Truffle Valley Boys take that approach several steps further.

“Granted, we might pay homage to a certain iconic solo or song, but our aim is to try and think like a bluegrass band of the time,” Ringressi insists. “We sing and play our respective instruments with a stylistically pertinent, but individual, language. We also enrich our repertoire with songs that might not be part of the bluegrass canon, but lend themselves to it. We strive to reproduce the experience of a mid-century bluegrass band in every aspect, both sonically and visually. Onstage, we perform around a single microphone, with period instruments, and even put special emphasis on the outfits and the overall aesthetics of the performance.”

Having said that, the band’s influences are easily discernible.

“We have countless,” Ringressi continues. “As a band, we gravitate towards the sound of regional bluegrass outfits of the mid-1950s, especially bands like the Lilly Brothers with Don Stover and Buzz Busby’s Bayou Boys. We’re also big fans of Reno & Smiley and the Stanley Brothers, and we include a lot of their material in our repertoire. Of course, each member of the band has his own sensibilities, and as a result, we love a number of diverse musical styles, mostly from the 1930s-1960s time frame, from bluegrass to Gospel, and from hillbilly to honky tonk, and from early rockabilly to swing… music that feels real and has power and guts.”

In each of the eight years since they were formed, the Truffle Valley Boys have travelled thousands of miles each year, and performed in any number of countries throughout Europe, from their native Italy to Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, England, Wales, and beyond. They have also appeared at many of the major bluegrass, country and rockabilly festivals on the continent, among them, the Buhl Bluegrass Festival in Germany, the Spring Bluegrass Festival in Willisau, Switzerland, the Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival in the Netherlands, the Torsåker Bluegrass Festival in Sweden, Italy’s Vintage Roots Festival and Summer Jamboree, the Hillbilly Hoedown in England and, later this year, the Rockabilly Rave in the UK.

Their activity doesn’t end there. “In 2016, thanks to Rainer Zellner, our manager for Germany, we had the chance to spend 24 days non-stop on the road as part of the Bluegrass Jamboree tour, along with American acts The Honey Dewdrops and The Goodbye Girls with Molly Tuttle.” Ringressi says. “During that trip, we played almost most every corner of Germany, plus Austria and the Netherlands. It was a wonderful experience and a whole lot of fun.”

That said, the band has struggled to receive due recognition back home. “Since the inception of this project, we knew we couldn’t really rely on Italy as a platform,” Ringressi admits. “It’s sad to say, but a country that is generally thought of in relation to the arts — be it visual arts, literature or music — has somehow forsaken much of the culture it produced. While a brave few remain, many music clubs and venues have shut down over the past ten years, and the pandemic has done the rest of them in as well. Just about the only way to earn a larger following is to have TV exposure, which often comes at a cost in terms of the content.”

Nevertheless, the group continues to persevere.

“We’re extremely stubborn, and strongly believe in what we do,” Ringressi maintains. “We have garnered unanimous acclaim at all festivals we’ve played and the various roots music events we’ve appeared at. In addition, our records have been played on radios all over the world and reviewed enthusiastically by numerous music publications. Every time we do perform in Italy, people jump out of their seat with excitement. It’s really just a case of getting the music out there.”

The band continue to do exactly that in fact. Their new album, Looking For An Old Fashioned Church, marks their fourth offering to date and was released last month. Ringressi calls it their  most ambitious outing to date.

“As I mentioned, we try to reproduce the full experience of a 1950s bluegrass band, and nowhere is this more evident than on this new record. In order to try and capture the sound and spirit of self-produced ‘custom’ recordings of the 1950s, we pulled out all the stops. Everything was recorded live with a single Altec ribbon microphone and vintage tube technology, and captured direct to magnetic tape without overdubs or edits, exactly like it was done 70 years ago. It resulted in a 12-track LP (available only on vinyl record, although a download card is included) that really encapsulates our mission statement. It’s a tribute to an era where recording sessions were more like a live performance. We always loved the music emanating from the grooves of those old discs. It’s so powerful and spontaneous, and there’s a sense of urgency, which, along with the tube saturation imperfections, are part of the aesthetic charm.”

He also gives credit to special guest Pascal Ammann, a Swiss guitarist extraordinaire who’s featured on finger-style electric guitar on various cuts.

“It’s a sound that’s largely forgotten today, and we love it so much, so we felt like bringing it back on our record,” Ringressi says.

The album was coproduced with their friend Thibault “Tib” Gardet of Hedgerow Music Publishing in France. “We started working with him back in 2019 for our previous vinyl release, a 4-song EP. Like us, Tib is a strong believer in the no compromises approach, and he feels the same way about music as we do,” Ringressi adds. “It’s really a pleasure working with him.”

“The record is available worldwide through our website.”

As one might expect, Ringressi has some very definite ideas as to why bluegrass maintains such worldwide appeal.

“I think bluegrass is a musical style that speaks to everyone, regardless of nationality, if only people give it a chance,” he muses. “An audience might be completely new to the genre, even amused by our looks, but once they listen to our music, the reaction is positive and at times even enthusiastic. We try to keep it as straight-forward and direct as possible, because we feel people can develop a connection to it this way. Bluegrass is intense and powerful, and can be technically challenging. However, lyrically, it’s about life, and feelings that are universal. You don’t have to hail from the Blue Ridge mountains to know what longing for home is all about. Sorrow and grief are experienced by everyone, and everyone hopes for a better tomorrow, in this world or the next.”

“This universality is why I think bluegrass speaks to so many people all over the world…including these four Italians!”

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.