(Rural Rhythm, 2013)

The Yankee Rebels,
Flight of the Phoenix
(Ampersand, 2012)

Bluegrass had no name when Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys began performing and recording in the 1940s. As far as Monroe was concerned, he had simply invented a style he intended to be unique to himself, one that would distinguish him from other acts on the Grand Ole Opry. In the early days he was far from pleased when other bands picked up on it. Eventually, the style developed into a genre that took its name from Monroe's band (and for which Monroe was happy to take credit).

I doubt very much that Nu-Blu will ever have the impact of Monroe's group, but if one gives the imagination free reign, one could conjure up a "nu-blu" genre evolving from bluegrass. Nu-Blu plays something that is still definable as bluegrass, but it's not hard to detect a sensibility that is pushing toward the post-rural. Such a strain is not exactly new to bluegrass, of course, but it is likely to grow ever more pronounced in an ever more urbanized America. Alison Krauss's influence in putting pop sounds where folk roots used to be has only accelerated the trend.

The four-member Nu-Blu, the core of which is husband and wife Daniel and Carolyn Routh, is good at what it does. The songs are capably crafted, the singing is solid and the arrangements are smart and tasteful. Blue-collar sentiments, albeit voiced more like James Taylor than George Jones, abound, and one song, "All Americans," gives voice to profoundly decent sentiments. Ten is an accomplished album, if perhaps not for bluegrass traditionalists who can never get their fill of those hard mountain harmonies.

Ironically, the Yankee Rebels, who are residents of New York City, are notably more rural in their musical outlook than the likes of Nu-Blu. Formed in the 1960s, the band was locally popular for years before going into hiatus, from which the appropriately titled Flight of the Phoenix marks a return. Three of the original members remain, joined by two later arrivals, to pick the old-time sound with some tastefully chosen covers (especially the gloriously cornball Blue Sky Boys number "Behind These Prison Walls of Love") and some likable, in-the-tradition originals.

Flight doesn't ascend to the heights, nor does it try to. It just does bluegrass right, and that will be enough for anybody who loves the stuff.

music review by
Jerome Clark

21 September 2013

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