The biggest recent news in my band has nothing to do with new CD releases, international tours, or our band “bus” failing an emissions test. It’s more in the realm of geological news: the youngest son of our mandolin player Mark Stoffel, Oliver, who is currently in the first grade, came across a large and rare bison bone estimated to be at least 2,000 years old on his family’s property. This made the local news, naturally, and it inspired Mark to suggest that our next album should be a concept record featuring nothing but songs about bones.
I wasn’t initially inspired by this idea, and I’m still not, even with his suggestion that we rewrite some of the old standards to fit the theme, coming up with songs like “I’m On My Way Back to the Old Bone” and “Old Bone Place.” However, I liked it so much better than his first idea for a concept album, that I wanted to encourage him. Mark writes a fine tune, in my opinion, and after we recorded an instrumental of his called “Swine Flu in Union County,” he thought he could write several more like it and we could release a collection of songs and tunes about infectious diseases. I like the bones better.
In general, though, I think there are lots of themed album ideas out there that bluegrass artists haven’t thought of, or they just haven’t been bold enough to record. There have been death-themed albums (that’s easy), Civil War albums, and of course tributes to various artists, from Mac Wiseman to Elvis. In the late ’60s, Charlie Moore and Bill Napier put out a Vietnam war-themed record for King, though the fact that they included “Filipino Baby” gave me the feeling they didn’t have quite as many Vietnam songs as they needed (someone should have suggested “Hanoi What it Means To Be Lonesome”). But I think bluegrass artists can take a broader approach to this idea and come up with some potential album concepts that no one has thought of yet.
Here are a few that have come to mind, and I’m sure you can think of plenty of these yourself:
“Me and the Jukebox” – an album of songs pairing humans with inanimate objects, also featuring “You and the Refrigerator,” and “Mom and the Rocking Chair”
“I’m Waiting to Hear You Call Me Darling” – an album of songs about waiting for things, and about impatience in general, also featuring “Waiting For a Train,” “I’ve Waited as Long as I Can,” and “Gee, You’re Slow”
“I Saw Your Face in the Moon” – an album of songs about hallucinations, also featuring “A Vision of Mother,” and “I Saw My Girlfriend’s Face in a Muffin”
“Yellow River” – an album about oddly discolored water, also featuring “Purple Rain,” “Orange Pond,” and “Maroon Creek”
“Hot Corn, Cold Corn” – an album of songs about temperature fluctuations in grain, also featuring “Lukewarm Barley Turned Cool,” and “This Oatmeal Was Hot Five Minutes Ago (What Happened?)”
“Doin’ My Time” – an album of songs featuring smiling judges, also featuring “Judge Brown’s Pearly Whites,” and “He Grinned As He Sent Me Up the River”
Then there could be tribute albums to artists and historical figures often overlooked by bluegrass artists:
“Bluegrass Through the Grapevine” – a bluegrass tribute to Marvin Gaye (I would buy this)
“I Write the Bluegrass Songs” – a bluegrass tribute to Barry Manilow
“The Wall . . . of Time” – a bluegrass tribute to Pink Floyd
“When the Phone Rang” – songs about telephones in tribute to Alexander Graham Bell
For bluegrass artists who write their own material, there are endless possibilities for concept albums, including:
“Give It To Me On the Side” – songs about fussy or high-maintenance restaurant ordering
“I’ll Pay You in Rutabagas” – songs about the role of root vegetables in the economy
“Worth the Risk of Bloating” – songs based on pharmaceutical ad disclaimers