My musical upbringing was all over the place. An Iowa-born father and west coast mother brought the music of those two arenas together in our household. Charlie Rich, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard intermixed with The Fifth Dimension, The Mamas and The Papas and Elvis. Growing up in small town Iowa, I was sheltered from more rebellious art forms like punk, so instead was exposed to a heavy dose of Kasey Casem Top 40 on my little transistor radio. Teen years ... New Wave, Duran Duran, The Police. In college, I finally got outside of the confines of programmed radio. Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Prong, Front Line Assembly and the real coming out party for college radio: REM, U2, The Smiths, Joy Division, The Pogues. Just as I was graduating ... Nirvana, Pearl Jam.
As I've gotten older, I still listen to most of those things but have developed a real appreciation for the most original of those American musical art forms: Jazz, Folk, and Bluegrass. Once you start listening to the older music, you understand that most of the later music that you like was greatly influenced by what came before. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were just giving their interpretations of American blues music. Country music largely derived from bluegrass, gospel, folk and blues. Now, I can't really stand what is now called country music, save for those few acts that seem to understand where it all came from.
I'm by no means a historian, but I know what I like listening to and my recent fascination with bluegrass music spawned from a singular angelic voice, that of Alison Krauss. Those elements of bluegrass that I most like and that comprise most bluegrass is the vocal harmonies, and the great instrumentation of the banjo and the fiddle. And you get that in spades with Alison Krauss and Union Station.
I understand the real progenitors of bluegrass were players like Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and I have listened to them, but they're probably a little too old school for even me. I prefer Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill, the music of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the college age groups like The Punch Brothers:
The Punch Brothers are unique in that they are ostensibly playing bluegrass but their song structure are more classical. Mandolinist Chris Thile's earlier band, Nickel Creek, is also very good.
Bluegrass is not for everyone, but I dig it. It may seem like hillbilly music, and to a large extent it is, but to write it off as such would be selling it short. There's a lot of history of our country in those sounds and many other places that originally influenced it, including Africa, the UK and Ireland.
Next up, tomorrow: Philosophy
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