various artists,
Bluegrass Mountain Style
(Rounder, 2002)

Bluegrass Mountain Style bills itself as over 60 minutes of classic bluegrass music. And that it is. But the performances aren't just by bluegrass anybodies (is there such a word? There are nobodies and somebodies in the vernacular...). You'll hear today's best bluegrass musicians including J.D. Crowe, Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs and others.

The CD has J.D. Crowe & the New South playing "The Old Home Place." You'll hear Bela Fleck doing his earlier type of music before he went global and jazzy with the Flecktones. Bela performs "Texas Barbeque" on one of his many banjoes and you can hear the flames licking the meat as usual.

David Grisman, mandolin player par excellence, known to every mandolin kinda person in the universe at this point, plays "Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes" and sings a baritone vocal while Vince Gill plays the guitar and provides a tenor vocal to Herb Pedersen's lead vocal and banjo. Tony Trischka, another banjoist of renown, plays "Crossed Cricket" with the help of his friends.

One surprise for me, a New Englander, was to see Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys included in the mix. I remember buying my first Joe Val album gettin' to be almost 25 years ago now. New England's bluegrass scene has always been a rich and delicious one even though one heads elsewhere in the country to honor homeland authenticity of this music. After all, the grass isn't very blue in New England. It's snowy and there's no Kentucky derby.

Still, the surprises don't stop here. This sampler has put together a bevy of beauties to include Alison Krauss, whose fiddle and vocals have graced many stages and whose sweet fiddle fever has infected many a microphone throughout the land. She plays "Too Late to Cry" with the help of Trischka and the gang. So the CD doesn't just give the newcomer to today's bluegrass a smorgasbord, it mixes up a melange for the long initiated to enjoy.

Still, for my money, the best vocal is Hazel Dickens on "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow." Her richly melancholic and heartfelt moan gives the true sound of a mountain country woman. As well, the fiddle played by Jim Buchanan is a joy to hear. Other songs of particular merit include "Play Dixie for Me," about a civil war solider leaving home to join the fray on the side of the confederacy. It is executed with dignity and great emotion while still within the framework of bluegrass quaintness.

There is something to be said for this anomaly. I talked to a pedal steel player in my territory at one point recently and he said, "There is no more country. I don't know what they're playing today." While this might have been a lament more of a generational nature than factually applicable, still the point is that big orchestras and studio stylistics have sometimes lead country music down a path with thorns. And while bluegrass isn't country the way sausage in Europe isn't sausage in America, the point my pedal-steel-guitar-playing reminiscer makes is not moot. I hear bluegrass sometimes and wish for a simpler approach. That is why the Hazel Dickens vocal is my favorite.

In an opinion unabashedly my own, I have a particular favorite on this album: "Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes." And my ladyfriend has brown eyes so it has nothing to do with that. Bluegrass Mountain Style is the best of today's bluegrass scene in one of those "try it; you'll like it" packages.

- Rambles
written by John Cross
published 15 February 2003

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