Old Testament bluegrass from Mare Winningham

Mare Winningham - Refuge Rock SublimeHere’s something I had been expecting to see for some time – hoping, even. Bluegrass has long been intertwined with its Gospel music tradition, though that aspect is far less universal than it once was. As the appeal of the music has grown beyond its roots in the rural southeastern United States, the topical themes of newly-written material has grown as well.

It seemed certain that adherents of religious faiths other than the Christian Church would be drawn to mimic the sort of Gospel traditional that exists in bluegrass music, and apply it to the beliefs they hold as true. Given the numbert of Jewish people who have been drawn to perform in bluegrass and acoustic music, I had expected to see this coming from that camp.

And so it has.

Mare Winningham may be known to readers as an actress, having appeared in dozens of movies and television programs over the past 30 years, but not many may realize that she has also been pursuing a career as a singer and songwriter, with three albums to her credit. Though raised in the Catholic Church, Mare converted to Judaism in 2003, and that change is the focus of her newest CD, Refuge Rock Sublime.

Released this spring on the Craig & Co label, Winningham’s CD mixes folk, bluegrass and Gospel music influences with Jewish musical idioms and themes, It is not a bluegrass record in any understandable sense of the term, but Jewish fans of acoustic and folk styles might want to give it a listen – as might folks interested in such cross-cultural musical ventures.

Audio samples can be found online at Fonogenic.com and in the iTunes Music Store.

The Jewish press has noticed this project as well, with articles/reviews appearing in The Jewish Week, on the Hillel web site, and on YoYenta.com.

Perhaps we will eventually see a more thoroughly bluegrass recording that mixes Jewish faith principles with the sonic themes of bluegrass Gospel – or even Christian themes other than the predominant rural southern staples. My own private joke has been that someday my own Catholic faith might inform a bluegrass song about The Miracle at Fatima or The Feast of the Assumption.

Now that would clear a festival site in a hurry.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

  • While I’m not Jewish by any means, I do love bluegrass and southern gospel music. I really enjoyed the music from the samples on the Fonogenic site. She even covers one of my favorite songs of all time, Wall of Prayer, a McKameys hit from a few years ago.

    Thanks for introducing this CD!

    -Byron

  • Cori

    After seeing Mare perform at Joe’s Pub in NYC, I can now say that Jewish Bluegrass has the potential to bridge all musical tastes! She had Tim Crouch backing her up, and it doesn’t get much better than that. Her album, Refuge Rock Sublime, is a true “testament” to the universality of her gorgeous voice, melody and lyrics.