Tony Rice and a Stage Full of Bluegrass Stars

On Christmas Day, bluegrass legend Tony Rice passed away. His career began 50 years ago, and he helped define the progressive end of the genre. Here is Tony on stage in 1988 with a group of young musicians who have become legends in their own rights.

The banjo player on stage is Bela Fleck, who would form the progressive jazz group Bela Fleck and the Flecktones in that same year of 1988. The fellow with the awesome hat is Roy “Future Man” Wooten, playing percussion on the SynthAxeDrumitar. His incredible brother Victor is on bass.

The dobro player on stage is Jerry Douglas, the undisputed master of that instrument. He’s played with artists ranging from Dolly Parton to Ray Charles to Elvis Costello, and is a regular member of Alison Krauss and Union Station. Here’s Jerry interpreting Paul Simon’s “American Tune”.

The fiddle player on stage is Mark O’Connor, who has recorded 45 albums in as many years. His recordings have made the classical, jazz, country and bluegrass charts. Here’s O’Connor playing with the Boston Pops.

And lest we get away without paying enough attention to Tony Rice, here he plays “Shenandoah” after an intro music lesson. Skip to 1:40 if you want to bypass the lesson, but don’t skip the beautiful guitar playing.

Two Bands of Brothers – Punch and Barr

Over a year ago we wrote about the then recent doings of Nickel Creek alums including mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. Around the time Nickel Creek disbanded in 2006, Thile formed a new group called How to Grow a Band, since renamed The Tension Mountain Boys, since renamed Punch Brothers. Their fourth album “The Phosphorescent Blues” was just released – thanks for the reminder Eric!

The album contains the eclectic mix of styles that fans of the band and of Thile have come to expect. Give a listen to the first single released from the new album, “I Blew It Off”, with its pop vocal harmonies. Then dip back to “Movement and Location” from their prior album “Who’e Feeling Young Now”.

The Barr Brothers released their sophomore effort “Sleeping Operator” last October. Brothers Andrew and Brad Barr originally played together in The Slip, a Boston-based band that performed together through 2011, but have put most of their recent effort into the Montreal-based The Barr Brothers. Here’s a live performance of “Even The Darkness Has Arms” from that album.

“Even Rats” from The Slip’s 2006 album “Eisenhower” was one of the songs adapted for the video game “Guitar Hero”. Listen to a bit of the original, then watch a young guitar hero go at it back in the day!

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Stockholm Take Two – The Boss of Sweden?

Last week we scoured a concert series poster from Stockholm and came up with a Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute singer/player covering Stevie Ray’s version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” – a song that Jimi Hendrix himself played in Stockholm in 1969.   This week, more covers by acts on this poster trace back to Bruce Springsteen in 1979.

Stockholm Music Poster

Abalone Dots is a trio of three Swedish women who play bluegrass and country tunes.  Last year in a TV performance, the band covered Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” from his 1980 album of the same name.  Abalone Dots delivered an abbreviated version, but they sang the lyrics straight up: getting Mary pregnant, working construction and all.  Bravo ladies! The band has been a quartet at times, and if you’d like to hear them get their bluegrass on, check out “The Ballad of Lee McKay”.

Believe it or not, another artist on this same poster covered “The River” on a TV show last year too! Micke Rickfors is The Boss’ contemporary, born in December 1948.  Though mostly a solo artist throughout his career, Rickfors was a member of The Hollies in the early ’70’s, replacing their original lead singer Allan Clarke. After you watch Micke perform another abbreviated version of “The River”, you can check out his work with The Hollies on “Magic Woman Touch”.

It’s not clear why the Swedes have such affection for “The River”, but while the song never charted as a single in the U.S. it was the biggest hit up to that time for Bruce in both Sweden and Norway. Here is Bruce playing the whole song at the “No Nukes” concert in 1979, a few months before the album was released. The Swedes leave out the break with perhaps the best line in the song, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse …”

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Time for Some Fun with Hayseed Dixie, Duck Sauce and The Kinks

Last weekend we were turned on to Hayseed Dixie (drawl it “ACDC”), a bluegrass band dedicated to rock and roll covers.  The video for their version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” features clips from “The Wild One” starring Marlon Brando.  If you like the band, check out their covers of The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl”, and especially Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Priceless. Thanks, Paul!

Duck Sauce, the DJ duo of American Armand Van Helden and Canadian A-Trak, released their first full-length album “Quack” in April. It includes new tracks and previously released singles. The video for “It’s You” is a lot of fun, as are the videos for their earlier hits “aNYway” and “Barbra Streisand”.

To cap off the fun video theme, we’ll pay our respects to Ray Davies who celebrated his 70th birthday a few weeks ago. In the early days of video the Kinks put out this one for “Come Dancing”, a single which later appeared on the 1983 album “State of Confusion”.  To illustrate the power of MTV, “Come Dancing” became one of the Kinks’ highest charting singles in the U.S. almost 20 years after “You Really Got Me” got things started.

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Nickel Creek Alums Inventing New Takes on Bluegrass

The trio of Sara Watkins, brother Sean Watkins, and Chris Thile formed Nickel Creek in 1989, and after polishing their sound for a decade, won a slew of Grammy, CMA and other awards between 2000 and 2005.  The band made its farewell tour in 2007, with the members pursuing their individual careers since.

Chris Thile pulled together a fantastic string quartet that included Yo Yo Ma for the Grammy-winning “Goat Rodeo Sessions” released in 2012.  The perfectly synchronized vocals of Thile and Aiofe O’Donovan on “Here and Heaven” are incredible, and pay close attention to see if you can figure out when the members of the quartet switch instruments.

2012 also saw Sara release her second solo effort, “Sun Midnight Sun”, which she supported by touring with Jackson Browne that summer. Here’s the video for “You and Me”, released in April 2013.

In case you hadn’t heard much of Nickel Creek back in the day, here is a track from their eponymous third album released in 2000. The album was produced by Alison Krauss and launched the trio’s big run.

And since we’ve mentioned her name, we can’t end without adding something from the exquisite Alison Krauss and her all-star band, Union Station.

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