New albums from all of the McCourys

The Del McCoury Band – Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass and The Travelin’ McCourys

A bluegrass original and his sons and successors opt to release their albums simultaneously, providing a familial connection and clearly synchronistic styles. For his part, Del does what he’s always done best, purvey music that boasts joy and enthusiasm in ways that tap a tradition he helped nurture. His offspring also participate on his record of course, but the lesson learned here is that two generations of musicians can easily embrace the same music and interpret it their own way.

At age 79, Del isn’t prone to slow down, although his sons, banded together under the handle of the Travelin’ McCourys, generally handle much of the roadwork these days while ensuring that the legacy lingers on with younger admirers through the populist precepts that modern bluegrass and grassicana have come to embrace. Consequently, the distinction in style between the aptly titled Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass and the self-titled debut disc by the The Travelin’ McCourys (excluding their collaborative effort with Keller Williams a couple of years back) overlaps in the approach. Traditionalists and those who appreciate an archival pedigree will note that both albums rely on vintage variations, built around the shared harmonies, fiddles, banjos, and mandolins that remain inherent additives in both form and substance. 

Happily though, McCoury doesn’t relay his music in a staid or stale fashion. The upbeat appeal remains intact, and on songs such as Shane Camp’s Hot Wired, his own original Love Love Love and album closer I Fell In Love, a contemporary pick written by two members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Howie Epstein and Benmont Tench, McCoury’s efforts are effusive and contagious.

Those genes have obviously been passed on to his sons, who, as the Travelin’ McCourys, take a contemporary tack to the music, even while retaining its essential elements. The band includes all four members of Del’s touring band, plus guitarist Cody Kilby in Del’s stead. In truth, there’s little expanse between the two albums, but those tuned into today’s grassicana scene will note a similarity in style to the Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain, the Punch Brothers and other outfits that tend to frequent the festival circuit. It’s especially reflected in their choice of contemporary covers — a pair of Grateful Dead classics, Cumberland Blues and Jerry Garcia’s Loser, each rendered so astutely they come across as if they were originals. Likewise, takes on Steve Young’s signature Lonesome, On’ry and Mean, John Hartford’s Natural To Be Gone, and Canadian folksinger David Francey’s Borderline, provide some of the more uptempo entries in an album where exuberance, energy and vitality are the rule and not the exception. 

So for now, it’s long live Del, with kudos extended to his offspring that further mine the McCoury music as well.

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.