One of the most fascinating aspects of the contemporary bluegrass scene is the segmentation that has occurred organically over the years. People come to the music on many paths, and can sample the wide variety of sounds on offer, settling on a strain that best suits their tastes, their lifestyle, and their socio-political outlook.
Traditionalists can revel in the music of Larry Sparks or David Parmley, while more adventurous listeners may prefer Larry Keel or Sam Bush. Either way, there are festivals and events geared to that audience most every weekend during the summer season, with CDs and t-shirts for sale, and a welcoming spirit that says, “Come on in… the music’s fine!”
There is even a somewhat more intellectual vein of serious instrumental music played in a bluegrass ensemble, like Mr. Sun or Jake Schepps’ Expedition Quartet, and a more poppy, Nashville-like vocal sound that some folks prefer from artists like Flatt Lonesome or The Grascals. If you look a bit deeper, you can follow any of these acts back to their antecedents, and see the sensible progression that led down each pathway.
One band that is finding success along the edges of bluegrass is Love Canon, based in Charlottesville, VA. Skilled grassers one and all, they use their considerable talents to perform pop and rock radio hits on acoustic instruments. Sometimes they turn these familiar songs into bluegrass numbers, as did The Osborne Brothers and Country Gentlemen before them, and in other cases they retain the feel of the original, but played with banjo, mandolin, and reso-guitar.
You find them most often at festivals where more experimental music is featured, and at events where attendees are less likely to be bluegrass regulars. But mainstream grassers really should take a listen to these boys as well. Nothing about their music is a joke. They take the original recordings seriously, and produce a high-quality product that combines the fun of hearing a former hit song, with the novelty of a bluegrass arrangement.
And they even have a bluegrass pedigree, with Jay Starling, son of Seldom Scene legend, John, on dobro and vocals!
The band has a new album due in July, called Cover Story – A Journey Through Music’s Greatest Decade, which shows what Love Canon can do on 9 former top 10s from the ’80s and ’90s. Young music lovers will surely enjoy the record, but those of us who lived through the era will delight in these covers of music from Peter Gabriel, Billy Joel, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, and others.
As a taste of what’s to come, Organic Records is offering this preview of one of the tracks, a dutiful rendering of Kyrie Eleison from US pop rockers Mr. Mister in 1985. The song hit #1 on Billboard in ’86, and the music video was ubiquitous on MTV that summer. One odd impact of the song was the discovery by a good many unchurched youth that the phrase referenced in the title was an ancient prayer of the early Christians, which is still part of the Catholic Mass offered every day all over the world. Kyrie Eleison translates from the Greek into Lord Have Mercy.
Guitarist/vocalist Jesse Harper shared a few thoughts about the song, and their version.
“Kyrie Eleison is one of those epic ’80s tunes that has an amazingly catchy chorus. As a kid I always thought the lyrics were ‘carry a laser down the road that I must travel’… why not? Jerry Douglas plays on this one and it’s one of the most amazing dobro solos I’ve ever heard. What a thrill it was to record this with one of our musical heroes.”
In addition to Harper and Starling, the band includes Adam Larabee on banjo, Andy Thacker on mandolin, and Darrell Muller on bass. Theirs is always a fun show, and a great way to introduce a non-bluegrass friend to the ways of the grass.
For Cover Story, they have an assemblage of guest artists selected from both the bluegrass and alt-grass scenes in the studio. Michael Cleveland, Alex Hargreaves, and Mike Barnett play fiddle, and Aoife O’Donovan and Keller Williams add vocals.
The album is set to drop on July 13, with the single for Kyrie releasing on Friday, June 8.
A full track listing follows:
- Prelude (Angry Young Man) – Billy Joel
- Things Can Only Get Better – Howard Jones
- Kyrie Eleison – Mr. Mister
- Graceland – Paul Simon
- Islands In The Stream – Bee Gees
- Enjoy The Silence – Depeche Mode
- Solsbury Hill -Peter Gabriel
- Tempted – Squeeze
- Driver 8 – R.E.M.