newgrass

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Planned to stay at the lab until the late afternoon, but those plans got nixed when I couldn't stand listening to another minute of Rush Limbaugh. Instead, I headed over to the public library where I read some Billy Collins and am now blogging. Our lab rents the neighboring space to an environmental studies/testing lab. Super nice folks, but one of the guys is basically deaf and feels the need to blare KFRU (local talk radio) when he's there. I can stand the Dave Ramsey Show and I've learned to block out Rush Limbaugh for the past 2 years, but it's gotten completely unbearable because of this whole health care fiasco. Some poor liberal called in, thinking he was doing some good by standing up to Rush. Too bad everything that came out of his mouth made him sound like a complete imbecile (something along the lines of "You don't like Obama because he's a n*****!"). I'm about to take a hammer to that radio the next time I hear the words "euthanasia," "libs" (his cute nickname for basically anyone who doesn't agree with him...makes me throw up in my mouth a little every time I hear him say it) or "pharms." The thing I hate the most is I love my job and I'm generally a ridiculously chipper person, but lately I've left the lab in such a foul mood because of one fucking, petty radio show. I think our lab is going to finally confront the other guys tomorrow about it.

That was a downer, so here's something to mainly cheer me up: charts and bluegrass, two of my favorite things.

(An homage to the classic Toothpaste For Dinner flowchart)
I think I know one person who loves bluegrass as much as I do, but he's in his 30's. Where are all the teenaged-twentysomething bluegrass lovers? It's freaking MISSOURI. Anyway, this is my attempt to illuminate the awesometasticness of this under-appreciated genre of music to ya'll (just kidding, I do not and will never talk like that).

You know you needed it.

Big Medicine: Fever In The South
Okay, okay. I can't say I'm a hardcore bluegrass listener. I think to be able to say you're hardcore about any kind of musical genre, you've got to be able to adopt part of that genre's "lifestyle" (I use this word with some reservation because of it's implications, but that is a separate topic which would require another blog post). Suffice it to say, Big Medicine is about as "hick" as I can go. There are also lots of "jam bands" like The String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon who I occasionally listen to. Word association? Rollicking.

Noam Pikelny: In The Maze
I first started listening to Noam Pikelny after listening to Punch Brothers (he's their banjo-player). I later found out that he was Bela Fleck's (Bela Fleck is arguably the world's current greatest banjo player) protege, which would explain why he's so good. The highlight of this album is the last track, "Overland." It's nice background music; I listen to this album a lot in the lab.

Chris Thile: How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
Chris Thile is probably my current favorite musician and has been for the past year. A child prodigy from California (I know, wtf), he started out on the guitar but later switched to the mandolin. He released his first album when he was 13 and most of the songs on it are original compositions. He later played in Nickel Creek and is now the "frontman" of Punch Brothers. How To Grow is definitely my favorite album on the list. Notable tracks include the cover of The Strokes' "Heart In A Cage," the cover (seriously, watch the beginning. He's makes jabs at Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers) of The White Stripes' "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground," and "Brakeman's Blues." Thile is quoted as saying, "Everything was tracked live, and I’ve decided never to record wearing headphones again unless I absolutely have to. Wearing headphones is bullshit, because you’re in your own little world playing to a mix that no one will ever hear but you. What’s the point?" I'd say this is sort of where things start bleeding into the regions of folk and pop, or "newgrass," as it's affectionately called. Oh, and in case you were wondering about the title, it's the title of one of the tracks (another cover, this time of a Tom Brosseau song). "I got my ass kicked by the last relationship I was in. This girl just left. It created a pretty serious complex for me. I’ve always been able to talk to girls, but I’m scared of them. I just could relate to it. Like, man if I could just grow one, that would take care of a lot of problems."

Chris Thile: Not All Who Wander Are Lost
One of his earlier albums, this one features bluegrass legends like Edgar Meyer (double-bass), Jerry Douglass (dobro, he plays in Alison Krauss' band) and Bela Fleck (banjo). Not much to say about this album except that it's quite beautiful, especially with tracks like "Song For A Young Queen" and "Big Sam Thompson."

Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Bela Fleck: Uncommon Ritual
I can't believe the recording studio didn't explode from the epic awesomeness of this super-group. "Big Country" is my favorite of the bunch, but Meyer's verion of "Zigeunerweisen" is just absurd. Listen to the original (written for violin) and then listen to his version. Good gravy.

Punch Brothers: Punch
My favorite album of 2008. The opening track, "Punch Bowl," seems like a typical bluegrass tune, but then it has bits of dissonance which foreshadow the following tracks. It's a good time, and smartly written. The next four tracks are all part of The Blind Leaving The Blind, a quintet of sorts inspired (is that the right word?) by Thile's recent divorce (this darker tone can be heard in the newest Nickel Creek album as well, and seems to be dominating his current work). I love the first and third movements in particular. Most of the members of Punch Brothers played on Thile's How To Grow album (this includes Noam Pikelny and my current favorite fiddler, Gabe Witcher). There were some Nickel Creek fans who didn't respond well to this because they were still miffed over the break-up (Nickel Creek, Thile's first band, recently broke up). Some truly hardcore bluegrass fans didn't like the album, either, because this really isn't traditional bluegrass at all. The aforementioned 30-year-old said it took a while for him to start liking the album. I think people who aren't bluegrass listeners but are classically trained musicians would really appreciate this album.

Nickel Creek: Why Should The Fire Die?
The latest (and last) album of Nickel Creek, which was comprised of Chris Thile and the Watkins siblings, Sara and Sean. (As a side note, Sean Watkins has a new project out with Jon Foreman of Switchfoot called Fiction Family. Their rather poppy self-titled debut album is worth checking out.) This is the best Nickel Creek album, hands down. Like Punch, it kind of lingers on the darker side of relationships, but is more interesting and layered than their earlier stuff. It also highlights just how much more talented Thile is than the other two band members (sorry, I had to say it), because the best tracks were written and sung by him. Such tracks include, "When In Rome," "Jealous Of The Moon," and "Doubting Thomas."

Chris Thile: Deceiver
This was probably the biggest "WTF?!"-inducer that took place in the bluegrass world in recent history. People went from being upset at Thile (after all, many believed he was the cause of the Nickel Creek break-up) to being straight up pissed at him after he released this record. But I think it's a dandy record and those kiddos can just stick it in their respective juice-boxes and SUCK IT. This is considered the pop album that Thile had to get out of his system. There's electric guitar in it. There's drumming. There's jazz. It honestly threw me off a bit the first time I heard it, but it eventually grew on me. Notable tracks: "The Wrong Idea" (think Akon's "Sorry, Blame It On Me" but with a mandolin), "On Ice" (this caused a bit of a stir since the innocent little mandolin-playing Chris that so many love says "shit" in it) and "Jessamyn's Reel."

Rocky Votolato: Makers
This is music which should be approachable to the masses. I think someone made a comparison to Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon? This is not what you would call bluegrass. It's basically good country music - better writing, better vocals, depressing lyrics (not always, though). He has a warm, rough voice. Best tracks - "White Daisy Passing" and "The Uppers Aren't Necessary." Avoid "The Night's Disguise" - there are some funky intonation issues.

Notable acoustic albums that didn't make this spectrum are:

Fionn Regan: The End Of History (He's Irish. Notable tracks: "Hey Rabbit," "The Cowshed" and "Abacus")
Kate Rusby: The Girl Who Couldn't Fly (She's British. Notable tracks: "The Lark" and "Fare Thee Well")
Jose Gonzalez: In Our Nature (He's Argentinian, but was born in Sweden and formerly played in a punk band. He also almost got a Ph.D. in biochemistry, but didn't finish since his music career took off. Notable tracks: "Down The Line," "Abram" and "The Nest")

In other news, have any of you seen the trailer for Gamer? I feel like Gerard Butler's trying to compensate for something. Oh, something like every single terrible movie he's been in since 300.

6 comments:

matt baker 8:30 PM  

no wonder you got so irate when kyle said "lib" today.
i actually just think that "lib" is short for liberal.

and i am right here. bluegrass is fantastic.

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