Butch Robins is surely among the most consistently interesting – and unpredictable – personages in bluegrass music.
He spent four years with Bill Monroe in the late 1970s, as was as buttoned-down a young banjo picker as you might imagine. He hewed closely to Monroe’s vision for the music, and displayed a sparkling proficiency for the style. But his Forty Years Late album recorded during that same time frame shows an imaginative and experimental player with an ear for where progressive bluegrass would be headed.
Butch found himself part of a number on ensembles in the ’80 and ’90s, but saw his star eclipsed by younger players like Béla Fleck in New Grass Revival, a group Robins had helped form. He released a series of excellent recordings (Grounded Centered Focused, Fragments of My Imagicnation, The Fifth Child), and caused a real stir when his non-fiction book, What I Know ‘Bout What I Know came out in 2003. The book contained Butch’s recollections of his time in bluegrass music, and was quite frank in its assessments.
Recently Robins has been recording extensively at Flat 5 Studio in Salem, Va and the first project from these sessions is now available. The album is Sketches, tracked with a band put together to perform his music called Butch Robins’ Imagicnation. The group features Flat 5 owner Tom Ohmsen on mandolin, John McBroom on bass and vocals, and Kris Hodges on percussion.
The majority of the 14 tracks are Robins originals that encompass the many genres that interest him: bluegrass, swing, Latin, rock and fusion. All told, the songs range from Butch’s instrumental bluegrass mash-up, Blue Grass Foggy Breakdown Mountain Express Stomp, to a wild cover of Lennon & McCartney’s Lady Madonna.
Here are a few samples, starting with an Imagicnation reworking of Forty Years Late.
Forty Years Late: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/40_years_late.mp3]
Here’s a new song of Butch’s…
…and a new version of a newgrass classic.
White Freightliner: [http://traffic.libsyn.com/thegrasscast/white_freightliner.mp3]
Sketches is a must-have for all fans of this innovative and free-thinking five stringer.
More audio samples and downloads are available from CD Baby and iTunes.