various artists,
Born into Bluegrass: The Songs of Cullen Galyean
(Mountain Roads, 2009)

When placed in front of bluegrass, the adjective "traditional" denotes the genre as it sounded in its first generation. In other words, traditional bluegrass is anything that takes as its model what was being put down between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s, when bluegrass was still a Southern music performed overwhelmingly by Southern musicians, usually from the rural Southeast. As it was adopted by the folk revival and Northern urban pickers, bluegrass evolved -- inevitably -- into new forms. Still, the genre in its original form survives, even (rather miraculously) thrives, but today it is just one of a variety of approaches, some challenging the very definition of "bluegrass" itself.

As the title suggests, Born into Bluegrass virtually defines genre traditionalism. North Carolinian Cullen Galyean is the child of two families (the other being the famous Lowe clan) whose roots in mountain music go back generations. Born in 1930, Galyean was in his teens when bluegrass, the commercial child of Appalachian folk music, started to influence the playing of even the most authentic purveyors of the old-time styles. Expressed another way, bluegrass doesn't get any more traditional than the kind Galyean, a banjo player, picked, sang and wrote.

Galyean is still alive, but the notes, which provide no further information but which lead one to presume declining health is responsible, report that he has not played since 2004. His son Mickey, a singer and guitarist, put this tribute album together by rounding up some of the best in-the-tradition bluegrassers around, including Junior Sisk, Johnny Williams (himself a leading bluegrass composer) and Terry Baucom. The 15 cuts are backed by a revolving ensemble of genre veterans.

Born into Bluegrass is a solid success, the songs uniformly strong, rich in melody and emotion. In the fashion of pure bluegrass, they celebrate Jesus and the mountain life or recount love's tribulations in what might be called Carter Family language. The sound bows a tad more to the smoother delivery of Flatt & Scruggs than to the harder expression of the Stanley Brothers, but there is no question that this is what bluegrass was meant to be: music planted deeply in its native soil.

review by
Jerome Clark

13 February 2010

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new