Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. –Elvis Costello

Recently, I have acquired a goldmine of Bluegrass albums through the wonderful Salt Lake City Library System, and this good fortune has sparked a blazing emotional fire.

I am moved, as they say, to speak.

I realize by attempting to discuss or describe a subject that many consider arbitrary (Music is a constant; but from a certain standpoint, it doesn’t hold a specific value beyond personal opinion.), I might turn a few people off (Especially when I’ve come forth with every intention of paying homage to a “twangy” genre of Southern mountain music.). Nevertheless, if for no other reason than to articulate or solidify my own personal regard for the significance of Bluegrass, I wish to explicate and inform.

Bluegrass is a variety of American Folk music that first became popular during the 1930s and 1940s. Its greatest influences are Irish, West African, Scottish, Welsh, and English traditional music. Immigrants from these nations and cultures settled the Midwestern plain lands and round top ranges of Southern Appalachia: It is here their posterity brought Bluegrass to life.

The content of the genre, as can be said for all genres of music, is varied and eclectic. However, the best of its storylines center on the plights of poverty and lost or won affections. Additionally, indicative of most European immigrants that came to this fertile nation with absolutely nothing—their connection to the land is palpable in their songs about mountains, farm fields, and plains.

Most Bluegrass pieces are arranged to include the following six acoustic instruments: fiddle (violin), mandolin, upright bass, banjo, acoustic guitar, and the dobro (resonator guitar). Sometimes artists choose to venture beyond this grouping (Listen to Crooked Still. They add a cello, and it’s gorgeous.), but in general, these are the staple instruments of Bluegrass.

In addition to the specific set of instruments, it is also important to consider the arrangement of the music itself. Harmony is the key to all happiness with Bluegrass. Even relatively unsophisticated songs will include a “tenor/descant” line that inlays the melody with a golden value. This quality is a drug for me. I am addicted.

Bluegrass is the staple of my musical nourishment, and I often feel alone in my feast. If you have a strong love for this country, a thriving connection to nature, an appreciation for intricate and flawless harmony, and affection for the occasional banjo, fiddle, or mandolin solo, I suggest you sample from a few of my favorites below. They’re yummy.

(Please forgive YouTube's Crap Quality)

  1. Alison Krauss & Union Station (“Oh, Atlanta”, "Take Me for Longing")
  2. Dan Tyminski (“Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Carry Me Across The Moutain”)
  3. Nickel Creek (“The Lighthouse,” “This Side,” “Doubting Thomas”)
  4. Rhonda Vincent ("Heartbreaker's Alibi," “Fishers of Men”)
  5. Wailin’ Jennys (Bring Me Little Water Silvy)
  6. Crooked Still (Ain’t No Grave)


Heidi said...

I remember you teaching me about Bluegrass when we were roommates. While I still haven't immersed myself in that musical genre, I always "thought well of it" if anything because I knew it meant a lot to you.

Marissa and Scott Bunker said...

I LOVE BLUEGRASS!! I actually have some Bluegrass CDs. Bet you didn't know that! And I've always wanted to play the banjo. Thanks for sharing! Great seeing you by the way. Thanks for making the trip to Provo.

Seth said...

Excellent. Do you still have the music? You should bring it next time you're down.