The Blu-Disc
(Pinecastle, 2011)

First, that name, which strikes me as the worst attached to a bluegrass band in the decades-long history of the genre. No other comes close. It's so awful that it took weeks before I could bring myself to listen to The Blu-Disc -- talk about rubbing it in. In the past, most bluegrass bands called themselves So and So & the Natural Feature/Legal Designation (as in city, state or county) Boys. They nearly always sounded as if, indeed, they came from there, which wherever it happened to be was a downhome sort of place. Until now, no band ever aspired to a name that could be confused with an underarm deodorant.

In spite of it all, Nu-Blu is good enough for what it is, fortunately not a deodorant, but downhome it isn't. This is, for the most part, the smooth side of the genre, a growing presence in bluegrass performance since Alison Krauss became the genre's most visible figure outside the hard-core audience. Nu-Blu is an outfit with four members, its most prominent one the highly regarded dobro player Rob Ickes, ordinarily found in Blue Highway, which splits the difference between traditional and modernist approaches in a way that seems to make everybody happy. Nu-Blu will make some people happy and extract a degree of reluctant respect from others who prefer their 'grass with a harder edge.

Husband and wife Daniel and Carolyn Routh founded the band, in which he plays rhythm guitar and she acoustic bass. They share vocals. His will remind you a little of James Taylor's, hers a lot of Krauss's. The sound is clean and clean-cut, expertly executed and incontestably melodic in the manner of competent commercial songcraft. The songs are mostly in the acoustic country-pop style (Jon Weisberger's gritty "Every Shade of Blue" being one of the rare welcome exceptions). One or two give voice to an appealingly compassionate view of our fellow humans of all backgrounds, religions and races, sentiments not out of place in a Pete Seeger we're-all-in-it-together anthem.

The one song you are probably going to remember longest is Kira Small's "Other Woman's Blues," in the venerable vein of country-music answer songs, this one to Dolly Parton's "Jolene" sung in Jolene's voice. It's perhaps the one cut that, at least in thematic content, looks back to older country music. Otherwise, pretty much all else is nu and blu.

music review by
Jerome Clark

11 February 2012

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