The slow merging of classic country into the bluegrass genre has generated a good bit of comment by people who care about both styles. Seeing artists like The Malpass Brothers be so warmly received at bluegrass festivals is one sign, as is their taking over for Doyle Lawson as hosts of the Denton FarmPark festival each spring. But it’s simply true that a large number of bluegrass fans also appreciate the sort of traditional country music that built a legacy of songs and artists from the 1950s through the ’80s.
Ricky Skaggs still performs his country hits on stage, but with bluegrass accompaniment. And it was his star turn, using vintage bluegrass songs in pop country, that took him to the top of the country scene. Add to this the number of country artists who have made bluegrass albums of late, from Alan Jackson to Sturgill Simpson, Dirks Bentley, and Dwight Yoakam.
So it’s no surprise to find a newcomer to the bluegrass market emerge with just this sort of stylistic mashup as his sound. Bell Buckle Records has signed just such an artist, Steve Owens, whose first single consciously blends ’70s country with contemporary bluegrass.
After a music career that had found him singing bluegrass, country, gospel, and beach music, Owens hooked up with Jerry Salley in Nashville to create a new album that combined his musical loves. They wrote a number of new songs together, and arranged a couple of classics with a bluegrass sound.
Steve said that working with Jerry was a terrific opportunity for him as an artist.
“Working with Jerry Sally was one of the most growing experiences I have encountered as an artist. Sometimes collaborations have chemistry, and I feel that we created a unique sound.”
The first example can be heard in Owens’ debut single, a remake of the Johnny Rodriguez hit from 1972, Pass Me By, surely among the most beloved country songs of its era. Subsequent covers by top stars like Lynn Anderson, Buck Owens, Janie Fricke, and others simply cemented its place in the pantheon.
For Steve’s version, he and Jerry grabbed Cody Kilby to play guitar and banjo, Jason Roller for mandolin and fiddle, Evan Winsor on bass, and Josh Matheny on reso-guitar. Salley sings the harmony vocals.
Owens has a clear and very appealing voice, and they have sped up the original a bit to fit the bluegrass vibe.
Have a listen…
Pass Me By is available now from popular download and streaming services online, and to radio programmers via AirPlay Direct.