Hi, there... This page is part of the Slipcue guide to various bluegrass artists, which is part of a much larger Hick Music website. This "guide" is not meant to be comprehensive or authoritative, just a quick look at a few records I've heard recently, as well as some old favorites. Comments or corrections are invited... and recommendations are always welcome!
This is the third page covering the letter "B"
Norman Blake -- see artist discography
Blanchard Valley Bluegrass Boys "Southbound Express" (ARK, 1984) (LP)
Audie Blaylock & Redline "Hard Driving Bluegrass" (Rural Rhythm, 2009)
Audie Blaylock & Redline "Hard Country" (Rural Rhythm, 2012)
(Produced by Audie Blaylock)
"Hard country" is what I call honkytonk and old hillbilly stuff, but bluegrass bandleader Audie Blaylock has a slightly different take on the phrase, using it to frame a sweet, solid set of traditional truegrass that draws on the bluesy twang of Jimmy Martin as well as the expansive, subtle folkiness of the progressive bluegrass scene. Fans of J.D. Crowe and the New South might want to check this guy out -- newcomer Blaylock is definitely keeping the torch alive.
Ron Block "Faraway Land" (Rounder, 2001)
An inspirational-gospel album which veers between some hot picking, high-harmony gems and slower, drippier adult-folk introspections. The few truegrassy numbers, such as "He's Holding On To Me" and "In The Morning Light" are dazzlers, but the album as a whole is fairly dreary and overly serious. An interesting theological note is struck on "Higher Than Man," wherein Block reexamines the cruelty of Biblical injunctions with a more compassionate, modern eye. Not my cup of tea, but those looking for a little nuance in their Christianity, or a new direction in the well-trod paths of bluegrass gospel, may find this disc rather thought-provoking. Interesting side project from this stalwart member of Alison Krauss's band, Union Station.
Ron Block "Door Way" (Rounder, 2007)
Ron Block "Walking" (Rounder, 2013)
Blue And Lonesome "Another Song" (Legend, 2001)
Nice bluesy, rootsy, vocal-oriented tradgrass, sort of along the lines of Tony Rice's fab Manzanita album, though with somewhat rougher edges. The lead vocals and banjo plunking both hold the band back a bit; there's a little trouble coming 'round the bend on some of the phrasing... Still, I found this disc pretty appealing; they're particularly strong on the handful of gospel tunes amid the more secular heartsongs -- definitely worth checking out.
The Blue Canyon Boys "Just An Ol' Dirt Road" (BCB, 2005)
(Produced by Drew Garrett & Craig Corona)
Rugged, ragged, pleasantly unruly DIY bluegrass and old-timey music, with equal debts to Bill Monroe, Alfred G. Karnes and Gram Parsons... Great repertoire: half the songs were composed by singer-guitarist Jason Hicks, with two others by mandolin picker Gary Dark, and another by bassist Chris Goodspeed, augmented by oldies such as E. C. Ball's "When I Get Home" and one of my gospel favorites, William M. Golden's "Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies" (mis-attributed as "traditional," but I'll forgive them, since they get the feel of the song so right...) The original material on here perfectly matches the musical texture of their inspirations, and if you like the more melodic end of the old-timey spectrum, you'll want to check these guys out... Their rough-and-ready performance style puts them on the edge of alt-countryness but the Appalachian vibe remains true. Recommended!
The Blue Canyon Boys "Hello City Limits" (BCB, 2008)
The Blue Canyon Boys "House Full Of Sorrow" (BCB, 2009)
The Blue Canyon Boys "Mountain Bound" (BCB, 2010)
The Blue Canyon Boys "Next Go 'Round" (BCB, 2013)
Blue Flame Stringband "Blue Flame Stringband" (Flying Fish, 1983) (LP)
An archetypal Berkeley/East Bay Area acoustic roots album, featuring local luminaries Eric and Susie Thompson (nee Rothfield), Alan Senauke, Kate Brislin and bassists Beth Weil and Todd Phillips on alternating tracks. The repertoire includes old-timey clompin', some heartsongs and gospel material, and a hefty dose of Louisiana cajun music. From my point of view, the cajun stuff is a distraction, but it's certainly representative of the direction the SF/West Coast folkies took off in during the '80s. Another fine, competent album along the lines of the Any Old Time String Band and other purveyors of archaic, off-the-radar acoustic styles.
Bluegrass 2001 "Bluegrass 2001" (Pinecastle, 2001)
Super-hot picking, along with vocals that bring back memories of the old country-rock vocal style of bands such as the Pure Prairie League, et al. I know that last comment may seem like a dig, but it's not... this is a mighty fine album, featuring the talents of Scott Vestal, Wayne Benson and Jeff Autry, along with other hot pickers on the Pinecastle orbit. The only problem with this band is its unnecessarily generic name (which leads the unwise to think this is a cheapie "various artists" compilation album, rather than a swell indie outing.
Bluegrass Album Band "The Bluegrass Compact Disc" (Rounder, 1986)
Just when everybody was starting to roll their eyes, throw up their hands, and declare that the too-perfect, newgrass scene had lost touch with its roots, guitarist Tony Rice organized this crackerjack ensemble, mysteriously known as the Bluegrass Album Band, and cranked out album after album of the good stuff. Banjo plunker J.D. Crowe, dobro whiz Jerry Douglas, fiddler Bobby Hicks, gospel bandleader doyle Lawson and bassist Todd Phillips were his cohorts, and their four albums rank as some of the best truegrass recordings of the decade, steeped in the lore of the elders. Gospel tunes with extraordinary vocal harmonies comingle with dazzling, lively picking, evoking Bill Monroe and all his followers, and showing quite clearly that the modern bluegrass crowd still has the goods. This CD reissue only samples from the BAB volumes 1-4; I strongly urge you to track down the original LPs, since a lot of great material has been left by the wayside... Also, it's lamentable that someone felt the need to "update" the band's otherwise-delightful name for the digital age, to the misleading "Bluegrass Compact Disc," which makes most folks assume this is some kind of compilation album. Note to Rounder: a CD with several songs on it can still be called an album; the origial name was way cooler. Anyway, this is a grrrreat collection, well worth tracking down and playing over and over again!
Bluegrass Album Band "The Bluegrass Compact Disc, Volume Two" (Rounder, 1987)
More great tunes gathered from the first four BAB albums, leaning heavily on secular tunes such as "Toy Heart," "Molly And Tenbrooks," "Pain In My Heart," and the like. There still seem to be a few gospel tunes missing here, but this 21-track collection does a nice job helping fill the gap. Ace bunny killer.
Bluegrass Album Band "The Bluegrass Album, Volume One" (Rounder, 1981)
And here are all the BAB albums, issued separately and in their entirety... Yum. What more could you want?
Bluegrass Album Band "The Bluegrass Album, Volume Two" (Rounder, 1982)
Bluegrass Album Band "The Bluegrass Album, v.3: California Connection" (Rounder, 1983)
Bluegrass Album Band "The Bluegrass Album, v.4" (Rounder, 1987)
Bluegrass Album Band "The Bluegrass Album, v.5: Sweet Sunny South" (Rounder, 1996)
Bluegrass Album Band "The Bluegrass Album, v.6: Sweet Bluegrass Instrumentals" (Rounder, 1989)
Bluegrass Album Band "Lonesome Moonlight: Songs Of Bill Monroe" (Rounder, 2002)
This disc culls a set of all-Monroe covers from the various BAB albums... Nice, I suppose, if you're just into Bill Monroe's stuff, but it kind of undercuts the wonderful sense of history, depth and completeness that the original albums provided.
Bluegrass Album Band "Down The Road: Songs Of Flatt & Scruggs" (Rounder, 2002)
Bluegrass Alliance -- see artist discography
The Bluegrass All-Stars "...Play Country Favorites" (Varese Sarabande, 2003)
This is a curious album, at least in its outward emulation of those old '60s LPs where anonymous house bands on tiny, fly-by-night labels would knock off perfunctory versions of the hits of the day. But this particular band, featuring Butch Baldassari, Jim Hurst, Scott Vestal and fiddler Tammy Rogers, among others, has surely racked up a few more credibility points than, say, the Crown Music Orchestra or the Red River Singers. This is an all-instrumental set of country cover tunes, sticking pretty faithfully to the '50s/'60s heartsong canon, with grassed-up versions of oldies by Hank Williams, Don Gibson, Harlan Howard, and others. It's not the most innovative or rip-roaring album ever, but the picking's pretty nice, and it's easy on the ears.
The Bluegrass Band "The Bluegrass Band" (Smoggy Valley Records, 1974) (LP)
(Produced by Dennis Coats)
Not to be confused with the Rounder Records powerhouse, The Bluegrass Album Band, this scruffy quartet from the Pacific Northwest played a lot of bluegrass and country-rock/country-folk covers -- tunes by Bill Monroe, one by Gib Gilbeau, "Ramblin' Man" by the Allman Brothers, Steve Goodman's "City Of New Orleans" -- and also recorded a couple of songs by banjo picker Dennis Coats, "Fiddlin' Round" and "Another Cowboy Song." It's an eclectic mix that certainly earns them a mention in the hippiebilly annals. Sadly, the copy of this album I saw was too thrashed to pick up, but I'm sure it'll float my way again sometime... Anyone have more info about these folks?
The Bluegrass Brothers "Live From The Virginia Hills" (Doobie Shea, 2001)
I don't know much about these fellers, but this fine live album, which kinda came out of nowhere and floored me. Sure is a fine, fine record. Great picking and plunking, along with soulful vocals, full of exaggerated twang. There are also plenty of great original tunes on here, including the nobility-in-poverty anthem, "Country Poor And Country Proud," and several dazzling instrumental flights. If you want to check out a new bluegrass record with some unexpected punch, this might just fill the bill. (Also check out the band's website, www.bluegrassbrothers.com.)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "The Bluegrass Cardinals" (Sierra/Copper Creek, 1975)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Mountain Girl" (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "My Kinda Grass" (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Welcome To Virginia" (Rounder, 1977) (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Livin' In The Good Old Days" (CMH, 1978) (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Cardinal Soul" (CMH, 1979) (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Sunday Mornin' Singin' " (CMH, 1980)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Live And On Stage" (CMH, 1980) (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Where Rainbows Touch" (CMH, 1982) (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Cardinal Class" (Sugar Hill, 1983) (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "Home Is Where The Heart Is" (Sugar Hill, 1984) (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "The Shining Path" (Sugar Hill, 1986) (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "What Have You Done For Him" (LP)
The Bluegrass Cardinals "The Essential Bluegrass Cardinals" (CMH, 2002)
Bluegrass Fever "After Dark" (Lamon, 1980) (LP)
This short-lived North Carolina band featured banjoist Ricky Briggs, who contributes an original tune, "After Dark," while guitarist Jim Sharpe pens two others, "Lonesome Bluegrass Fever" and "You Gave Me Love." The rest of their repertoire includes some Bill Monroe, a cover of Gram Parsons' "Luxury Liner" and a song by Herb Pedersen.
Blue Highway "It's A Long Long Road" (Rebel, 1995)
Blue Highway "Wind To The West" (Rebel, 1996)
Blue Highway "Midnight Storm" (Rebel, 1998)
Blue Highway "Blue Highway" (Skaggs Family, 1999)
Dazzling latter-day truegrass with a nice mix of hot picking and deep, rich harmony vocals, as well as dips into gospel, prison songs, and the like. Personally, I could live without hearing another version of "Man Of Constant Sorrow," but other than that, this is a pretty swell disc... Recommended!
Blue Highway "Still Climbing Mountains" (Rounder, 2001)
Blue Highway has become one of those great, top-flight bluegrass bands where each album is so good that you feel a little silly trying to differentiate it from ther other releases. Yeah... maybe they're getting a little slicker and softer, but the core of their sound is still quite traditional-sounding and the picking is sweet. Most impressive is the fact that all the material on this album is original, written by various members of the band. Old fans won't be disappointed; new ones may be surprised.
Blue Highway "Wondrous Love" (Rounder, 2003)
An all-gospel album, with musically softened edges that nudge the work into Southern Gospel territory. More vocally oriented and not that much going on in the super-duper picking department; I'd say this disc is more aimed at the true belivers, rather than at bluegrass fans. It's okay, but not that distinctive, particularly given the post-millennial glut of similar god-grass material.
Blue Highway "Marbletown" (Rounder, 2005)
Blue Highway "Lonesome Pine" (Rebel, 2006)
Blue Highway "Through The Window Of A Train" (Rounder, 2008)
Blue Highway "Some Day: The Fifteenth Anniversary Collection" Rounder, 2010)
Blue Highway "Sounds Of Home" (Rounder, 2011)
Blueridge "Common Ground" (Sugar Hill, 1999)
Solid, traditionally oriented truegrass, with a gruff vocals, a very prominent banjo and a good, strong melodic sense. This is this band's debut disc, an impressive showing for veteran pickers Terry Baucom (ex-Quicksilver/Boone Creek banjoist) and mandolinist Alan Bibey (formerly of IIIrd Tyme Out). If you like it smooth, but old-fashioned, this is mighty fine music that just might fit the bill. (Also see: Baucom, Bibey & Blueridge.)
Blueridge "Side By Side" (Sugar Hill, 2000)
Blueridge "Gettin' Ready" (Pinecastle, 2006)
An all-gospel album, with emphasis on harmony vocals...
The Bluegrass Soul Pickers "If I Ever Get Home" (Blue Circle, 2010)
(Produced by Dixie Hall & Tony Engle)
A sweet set of independently produced bluegrass, produced under the aegis of Tom T. Hall and his wife Dixie Hall. The Hall's contribute two songs to the set list (with the excellent "If I Ever Get Home" as the album's title track) while the gruff-voiced Buddy Mason (one of two lead singers) wrote about half of the album's tracks, including the magnificent cheatin' song, "Halfway Out The Door." Nice, earthy, melodic material, with wistful nostalgic songs galore, all about working folks and fading farms, and decent, earnest picking and fiddlin'. Good stuff!
Blue Rose "Blue Rose" (Sugar Hill, 1988)
An all-gal bluegrass supergroup, featuring Cathy Fink on guitar and banjo, Laurie Lewis on fiddle and guitar, Molly Mason on bass, Marcy Marxer on guitar and Sally Van Meter on dobro, with vocals spread out among the quintet. The songs are mostly contemporary material, with a couple of well-chosen oldies and traditional tunes sprinkled in for good measure...
The Blue Sky Boys -- see artist discography
The Blue Velvet Band "Sweet Moments With The Blue Velvet Band" (Warner Brothers, 1969) (LP) & (CD)
(Produced by Erik Jacobsen)
A smooth but sweet major-label album made when the '70s newgrass scene was still just around the bend. There's certainly a power-packed lineup: Bill Keith and Jim Rooney join up with fiddler Richard Greene (who had just served his own apprenticeship with Bill Monroe) and guitarist Eric Weissberg in his pre-Deliverance days... people often cite this as a pioneering bluegrass record, but I just don't hear much high-lonesome here, rather, it seems like a tradition-oriented hippie country set, with most of the "rock" sensibility set aside in favor of old-fashioned twang and a little bit of Bakersfield bounce. The repertoire is a swell mix of Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, a Luke Wills western-swing oldie and a cover of Merle Haggard's "Somebody Else You've Known," with these guys scooping the Flying Burrito Brothers by a year or two. The also show deep folk scene roots with a reading of "The Knight Upon The Road," and version of the Appalachian murder ballad "Little Sadie." I think it's Jim Rooney singing lead, and I have to admit he's an acquired taste. For the first few tracks you might think there's a hint of parody in his voice -- after a while, though, you'll realize it's just the plain-spoked way that he sings, not some kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink thing. There are only two original tracks on here, including one of the album's strongest songs, "Hitch-Hiker," a cheerful novelty number written by Weissberg that captures some of the feel of the times. I guess this has been reissued on CD, though the original LP is worth tracking down just to enjoy the hilarious "board game" drawing and text that Eric von Schmidt designed for the inside of the gatefold sleeve. A long out-of-print landmark album that is more of a quiet, iconoclastic nugget than a earthshaking stylistic game-changer.
Bluegrass Albums - More Letter "B"
Hick Music Index