various artists,
True Bluegrass
(Rounder, 2002)

While the title implies an album that will only offer a narrow range of music, True Bluegrass does quite the opposite by providing a rather broad range of musical styles, talents and instruments. This one album offers some of the twang harmony, a heck of a lot of banjos and fiddles, and even a mandolin or two. (Not to mention such talented artists as Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Bela Fleck and Butch Robbins.) The first half of the album more or less covers the secular end of bluegrass while the latter portion delves more into faith-oriented ballads and hymns.

The first song, "Leavin'" by Tasty Licks, hits you hard with Bela Fleck's outstanding banjo. The forlorn "Lorene" by the Bluegrass Cardinals provides some of the excellent vocal harmonies associated with bluegrass music. Phyllis Boyens's "To Hell with the Land" could very well be a new anthem for worldwide reform; it combines down-home musical stylings with a remorseful message of mankind's self-destruction.

"Heaven" by the Bailey Brothers & The Happy Valley Boys and "Crying Holy" by J.D. Crowe & the New South are bookends of gospel bluegrass. "Heaven" is indicative of the slow-paced ballads of faith while "Crying Holy" is one of the more energetic hymns that would be heard at a tent revival.

True Bluegrass is a great collection of bluegrass music. If you're unfamiliar with bluegrass, then this album is an excellent means of exposure to the bluegrass range of the musical spectrum. If you're a bluegrass connoisseur, then this album will more than complement your collection.

[ by C. Nathan Coyle ]
Rambles: 3 August 2002

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