Bluegrass impressionists

Ashby FrankAshby Frank is a talented musician who, despite his youth, has already been a part of several notable ensembles. At 24 years old, Ashby – who is the current mandolinist with Special Consensus – has toured with Marty Raybon, Alecia Nugent and Ronnie Bowman.

He lives in Nashville, which necessitates a lot of travel since Special C is based in Chicago, but Ashby feels that Music City offers him a great many opportunities for session work and musical interaction that he can’t find elsewhere.

One of those offshoots is Mashville Brigade, a loose-knit group of sidemen who get together on Tuesday nights at Nashville’s fabled Station Inn. Members include Frank on mandolin, Darrel Webb on guitar, Jim Van Cleve on fiddle, Greg Martin on bass and Aaron McDarris on banjo. They typically perform bluegrass classics, but have developed a strong following based as much on their quirky, irreverent sense of humor as for their prodigious musical abilities.

One of those special talents is vocal impressions, and a recent YouTube video demonstrates that Ashby and Darrell have the goods to give such stalwarts of the genre as Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley a run for their money. The video is a bit shaky but the audio is fine, and their take on John Conlee and Willie Nelson is hilarious.

Ashby tells us that this side project has been a blast for all concerned, allowing the members to have some fun outside of their primary gigs. Webb now tours with Rhonda Vincent, Van Cleve is a part of Mountain Heart and McDarris plays with The Grascals, so a Tuesday night playing bluegrass favorites is a welcome weekly diversion.

We’ve been doing the Mashville Brigade thing for over a year, and we’re all really happy that it’s turned into one of the biggest nights of the week at the Station Inn. Every Tuesday is kind of like a party/family reunion.

So many people have requested some kind of recorded music from us, and fortunately the great folks over at Rural Rhythm found a way for us to do that.

It’s really awesome for me to get to play with some of my best friends and in my opinion some of the best pickers and singers in bluegrass every Tuesday when we’re all off the road. We really wanted to capture the live feeling and energy that this group of guys carries to the stage, so we recorded it live at the Station Inn but without an audience.

All of the tunes are very traditional bluegrass songs, and I think it’s going to give people that don’t live in Nashville a chance to feel like they’re hanging out in the Station Inn late on a Tuesday night.

The project will be titled something to the effect of ”Smash Hits of Bluegrass” because we’re covering some of the most played, requested, and well loved classics that the genre has to offer, basically the songs of the older generation performed by a group of young pickers.

We think that this will help people that aren’t very bluegrass savvy become more knowledgeable about this band and our genre of music.

Hopefully we’ll have it available for purchase online in the not so distant future. Check out our MySpace page for more information

Ashby has just made his way to Saskatchewan for a Special Consensus show with the Regina Symphony Orchestra, a last minute show filling in for Jerusalem Ridge.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.