Monday, January 31, 2005

Good Bluegrass Music

I'm always on the hunt for some fine bluegrass. Sometimes that can be hard to find given the lack of exposure there is to bluegrass outside of Appalachia. O Brother Where Art Thou? did a great deal for bluegrass and traditional American music. But of course most people are lazy and didn't extend their newfound appreciation of bluegrass too far beyond the artists presented on the soundtrack. That's OK I guess. I don't know how much I should expect people to explore music. I do, but I'm not typical.

One of the benefits of this revival was a rejuvenation of Ralph Stanley's career. When I first became a fan of bluegrass, around 1998, he was playing in 100-200 seat halls for $15. Now he plays in 1000 seat halls for $30. Good for him. But he's not doing much new or interesting music. He's put out a lot of albums over the past few years but these are either him recording his old songs or live stuff. People are buying it I guess, but it's not that good. In part this is because Ralph's a contemporary of God. You can't expect a guy pushing 80 to be putting out a lot of fresh stuff. Also his son is now the lead singer in the Clinch Mountain Boys. This is not good. Ralph II has a terrible bluegrass voice. It might work pretty well for country music but not bluegrass.

But if you're into Ralph Stanley and want to hear something good and fairly new, check out his 2 albums with Jim Lauderdale. These are definitely the best albums he's put out in many years. Jim Lauderdale is a fairly well known country singer and songwriter, whose songs have been covered by many more mainstream country artists. I'm not an enormous fan of his country stuff but playing with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys works amazingly well. In part it works because most of the songs are Lauderdale's. It's nice to hear Ralph singing some new songs. It also works because Lauderdale is usually singing the lead and Ralph Sr. is singing the tenor parts. This arrangement works better for Ralph's voice than him singing lead. Maybe the best part is that Ralph II is almost nowhere to be found.

Anyway, they have two albums. I Feel Like Singing Today came out around 1998. This is a short album (around 25-30 minutes) and it's hard to pay full price for a small amount of music, but in this case it's worth it. I recently bought their most recent album, Lost in the Lonesome Pines. It might not be quite as transcendent as the first album, but it's still quite good and also a little cheaper for about 40-45 minutes of music. If you want to hear some good high-quality bluegrass, you can't go wrong with these albums.