Much ink has been spilled, and pixels displayed, about how the vocal sound of traditional bluegrass music can be a stumbling block for potential new fans. For those of my own ilk, it is hard to understand how Ralph Stanley’s singing could do anything but captivate, or how Lester Flatt coming up from under the note to nearly on pitch could cause anyone’s nose to wrinkle, but I am assured that it is true.
The charm that bluegrass fans find in the authentic rural or mountain sound of contemporary bluegrass artists like Junior Sisk, Larry Sparks, or Caleb Daugherty is likewise one of the big reasons why folks who enjoy the jamgrass style don’t always warm to the type of music that dominates our Bluegrass Today Weekly AirPlay chart. It may just be a modern variation of the old city mouse/country mouse syndrome, which explains a lot of the division in the world today, but it is clearly something that separates the tribes, as bluegrass lovers often pull back from the vocal sound of top newgrass artists.
We can see a great example in this latest single and music video from Greensky Bluegrass, one of the top draws on today’s live music circuit. Since winning the band contest at Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2006, they have been tearing up the road, working 175 or more shows each year, supporting a series of successful recordings. And like many of the artists who are drawn to this type of grass, founders Arlen Bont on banjo, Dave Bruzza on guitar, and Paul Hoffman on mandolin grew up listening more to rock music than bluegrass, and their sound reflects this.
Greensky’s new release, Grow Together, features Hoffman on lead vocal, whose voice is as suited for a rock band as it is for a festival campground. The song comes in advance of the band’s 11th album, Stress Dreams, due early next year. Hoffman wrote this one as well, inspired by the birth of his daughter, and the love he feels for her, and her mother, both bat the same time.
The current lineup retains Bont, Bruzza, and Hoffman, with Anders Beck on reso-guitar and Mike Devol on bass.
Here’s the music video for Grow Together.
Greensky Bluegrass carries the influences from the rock music world into their live show as well, with the requisite light show and high volume environment. But the music itself has all the elements of traditional bluegrass, with a singing style that appeals to a less specific audience. Is this the future of bluegrass, or will these styles continue along on separate tracks, each pleasing their separate followers?
The band will be touring the rest of this month into mid December, taking a break after the big Strings & Sol destination festival in Mexico. After a holiday hiatus, look for them back on the road in support of Stress Dreams, along with Infamous Stringdusters, in the new year. See further details online.