Missy Raines, who has faced more than her share of criticism for straying beyond the bounds of bluegrass in recent years, is in the formative stages of putting together a new album that won’t appease any of her critics.
The idea for the album started with an epiphany a few months back. “I woke up knowing that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing – leading this band, ruffling a few feathers with this music,” she told Bluegrass Today.
The band is Missy Raines and the New Hip. The music is jazz-tinged Americana, complete with drums and, at times, keyboards and other non-traditional bluegrass instruments. The band strayed beyond Missy’s bluegrass roots with its 2009 release, Inside Out on Compass Records. The new CD, scheduled for release next spring, will be in the same style, only with more emphasis on vocals instead of instrumentals.
There’s one more difference with the new project. This will be her first concept album, with most of the songs built around a recurring theme that has been on her mind since her epiphany. That theme, she told me, is whether we all are called to do some specific thing, “even when answering that call means you have to face barriers.” And how, even in the face of opposition, “you have to do it anyway.”
I had a chance to witness that opposition at IBMA late last month, during Chris Pandolfi’s thoughtful keynote address about the need for a bigger tent in bluegrass music. He rattled off the names of several bands who are on the cutting edge, trying to bring more fans to bluegrass while being bashed by the traditionalists. When he mentioned Missy’s band, someone blurted out, “No,” as if that was going too far. I was on the wrong side of the room to see who said it but multiple reports identify the same guy – a radio personality who has done much to lift bluegrass over the years.
Turning away from Missy seems harsh and strange. She cut her teeth in bluegrass over the years. In addition to playing with the Claire Lynch Band, she recorded with some of the music’s legends over the decades, including Jesse McReynolds and Josh Graves. She has claimed IBMA’s bass player of the year statue seven times, making her the genre’s most-decorated female instrumentalist.
Missy was in the room when that know-it-all sounded off but if she heard the comment she didn’t react. Later, she said she pays very close attention to the what-is-bluegrass debate “because I care about the community. I want unity in this community.”
But in the next breath she said she and the band would go where the music takes them, and for now that’s in the direction they’ve already been heading. She is deep into what she calls “the sussing out” of material for the recording. “This is possibly the most extensive process I’ve undertaken,” she said. In addition to choosing songs that fit the concept, she’s keeping a journal of her thoughts about those songs, something she hasn’t tried before. “I’m learning things about myself through this process,” she added.
Further down the road, Missy envisions a New Hip Christmas album and something sure to silence the critics, at least for a while – a traditional bluegrass record.
She won’t do it for the critics, of course. She’ll do it because that’s where the musical journey will take her. But you can bet they’ll happily go along for the ride.