Bluegrass multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush is hailed as one of the architects of the 1970's "newgrass" sound... He co-founded the band New Grass Revival, which introduced rock, jazz and reggae music into the bluegrass repertoire, opening the genre up even wider than the folk-oriented "progressive bluegrass" of the time. Bush led the band for over a decade, while also playing with numerous bluegrass, country and pop artists, including stints with the Emmylou Harris and Leon Russell bands, as well as pursuing his own vigorous solo career. Best known as a mandolin player, Sam Bush is also a virtuoso on banjo, fiddle and guitar, and is a mainstay on the festival circuits, particularly at the Telluride Bluegrass festival, where he has recorded several live albums. Here's a quick look at his work...
Poor Richard's Almanac "Poor Richard's Almanac" (American Heritage, 1969) (LP)
An early album recorded with Alan Munde on Banjo and Sam Bush's highschool buddy, Wayne Stewart on guitar... This was reissued on Ridge Runner (see below) with about a half-dozen additional tracks.
Poor Richard's Almanac "Poor Richard's Almanac" (Ridge Runner, 1976) (LP)
Sam Bush & Alan Munde "Together Again For The First Time" (Ridge Runner, 1977) (LP)
Sam Bush "Late As Usual" (Rounder, 1984)
A sweet set of pure, melodic acoustic bluegrass along with inventive flights into various (such as the jaunty "Russian Rag," the zippy "Crooked Smile," or the lush, jazzy "Diadem.") After years as a celebrated player on a bunch of the world's best bluegrass records, finally Sam Bush put out his first solo album, and it was a doozy. Fun stuff, with a simple, joyful feel. Recommended!
Strength In Numbers "Telluride Sessions" (MCA Nashville, 1998)
A bunch of newgrass usual suspects -- Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor -- get together for a mellow set of mildly twangy instrumental tunes. For Fleck, this is a positive return to roots (I guess), but traditional 'grass fans will still find their attention wandering, and wonder what happened to the other guys in the band. It's okay, not great, just more noodly new acoustic easy listening. At least they stick to the acoustic side of things and don't indulge much in the way of wild stylistic mood swings.
Sam Bush "Glamour And Grits" (Sugar Hill, 1996)
Sam Bush "Howlin' At The Moon" (Sugar Hill, 1998)
Sam Bush "Ice Caps: Peaks Of Telluride" (Sugar Hill, 2000)
Fun stuff! Recently this veteran '70s newgrasser has been wowed the crowds with more traditionally-oriented releases, and a pleasant return to bluegrass' humbler, melodic roots. This live album catches him in fine form -- witty, swift, upbeat and backed by a bunch of predictably crackerjack pickers. These tracks are cherry-picked from his performances at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, over the last decade or so. A few misfires -- like some goofy attempts at hard blues, etc. -- but for the most part this is pretty straightforward twangy stuff, and a nice showcase for one of the most consistently pleasing pickin' fixtures on the stringband scene.
Sam Bush & David Grisman "Hold On, We're Strummin' " (Acoustic Disc, 2003)
A fun, bubbly set, with these two newgrass pioneers relaxing and letting their (rather fluffy) hair down, singing bluegrass and grassed-up pop tunes with a carefree, infectiously upbeat sense of abandon. I dunno exactly why, but I liked this album a lot. (See also: David Grisman.)
Sam Bush "King Of My World" (Sugar Hill, 2004)
"Diversity" is the watchword for this far-ranging album, which opens with a good, old-fashioned bluegrass breakdown, then slides into a funk-grass fusion, and some country-flecked Americana tunes, then in and out of various degrees of 'grassiness. Mostly it's a good-natured, fusion-laced folkie album, with pop, funk and reggae riddims on various songs, and a couple of longer newgrass/new acoustic jams, such as the languid "Mahavishnu Mountain Boys." Fiddler Andrea Zonn guests on "The Wizard Of Oz," an acoustic swing tune dedicated to an old major league baseball player... Longtime fans should like this disc just fine; country or bluegrass purists might find it kind of hit or miss.
Sam Bush "Laps In Seven" (Sugar Hill, 2006)
An eclectic Americana/newgrass smorgasbord from this newgrass pioneer and veteran studio stud. Banging on the mandolin with his usual energy and creative flair, Bush works through bouncy EZ-pop-grass instrumentals, fiery traditional material and some intriguing modern songs. The most striking songs on here include the album's opener, "The River's Gonna Run," a moody, multi-textured collaboration with Emmylou Harris, replete with prophetic lyrics and shimmering production much like Emmylou's recent work, and "Ballad For A Soldier," a topical song written by Leon Russell back in the 1960s, but still (sadly) appropriate today. There's also a catchy version of Robbie Fulks' "Where There's A Road," as well as less rewarding covers of tunes like "White Bird" (argh.) and Jean-Luc Ponty's "New Country" (with the Gallic fiddler sitting in as a guest...) So, there are a couple of tunes on here maybe we could live without, but on balance this is another strong album from a guy who's been on a real roll lately. Worth checking out.
Sam Bush "Circles Around Me" (Sugar Hill, 2009)
Sam Bush "On the Road" (Sugar Hill, 2007) (DVD)
Hick Music Index