I am enjoying the sights and sounds of Canaan’s Crossing as I write this article for Bluegrass Spin. Since I am a big fan of fine musicianship, I am smiling ear to ear as this band is incredibly tight. Guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and a big ol’ upright bass round out the instrumentation on “Leaving Despair” and I dare you to give this song a listen and not feel just a little bit better about any challenges you face today. You can watch and enjoy this YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNU5LIwXP1o.
More importantly, visit the band’s website at http://www.canaanscrossing.com/. The big man with the big base is Tim Maze who is a triple threat on base, vocals, and acting as emcee for the band. Drew Long is a young banjo player with skills that might normally be attributed to someone with more years on the planet. Guitarist Andy Wilks has a strong love of gospel music and musical arrangements. Mandolin player Josh Palmer is at home in this band and adds impressive string work to the bluegrass sound. It’s easy to see why fiddler Tina Miller is a crowd favorite. She is a songwriter of extraordinary talent and has an infectious smile and winning attitude that make her hard to resist.
On their own, each of these musicians is worthy of the title. Combined, they are Canaan’s Crossing. They are bringing the sounds of Bluegrass Gospel to welcoming souls across Alabama and surrounding states. I recommend you get out and see them but if they are not performing near you, the web experience is inspiring and you can always purchase their music to own a little piece of Canaan’s Crossing for yourself.
“Making Bluegrass Hip Again One Day At A Time”. Repeat this mantra over and over and you may just become a believer of the message The HillBenders are sending each and every day. You see, The HillBenders are a well-travelled Bluegrass Band. They are on the road. A lot. In fact, Springfield, Missouri may be their home but you can catch their high-energy performances all across the country and at many of the premier Bluegrass Festivals throughout the year. Venues as large as the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival have welcomed them and places as intimate as New Haven, CT’s Café 9 are among their recent and upcoming gigs.
One listen and it’s easy to see why the HillBenders are such a fan favorite. This band is having fun doing what they love. Mike Cassidy on banjo, Gary Rea and bass, Jim Rea on guitar, Nolan Lawrence on mandolin and Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves on dobro round out this bluegrass quintet. They released “Down to My Last Dollar” in 2010 to rave reviews. Their latest offering is “Can You Hear Me?” where the band queries us with the question “Can You Hear Me On The Radio”? My guess is with hook-friendly bluegrass music like this, the answer will be “Yes”! This is traditional bluegrass that keeps up with the times and certainly deserves to be heard by all of us.
Visit their website at http://www.hillbenders.com/. Check them out on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Of course, to really appreciate this band, catch them at a live show whenever you can. With a touring schedule as exhaustive as theirs is, there is no reason you can’t find a HillBenders show near you. You’ll be glad you did!
I had the great fortune to enjoy an intimate performance by one of America’s great singer/songwriter/musicians when Mac McAnally performed at Mohegan Sun’s Wolf Den. With no great fanfare, Mac simply walked out on stage and let his guitar and genuine love of music embrace the crowd that came to get up close and personal with one of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefers. Mac retraced his humble beginnings in Alabama and Mississippi and took the audience on a musical journey from rural America to the Caribbean and back.
Mac McAnally is not a bluegrass performer, per se. Although it’s hard not to imagine bluegrass sounds coming from his mandolin as he tells stories about taking long drives through the back roads of America using his knees to steer his car so his hands were free to play his mandolin. He is well credentialed, having been named to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007 and 5 time (that’s right, 5 times!) winner of the Musician of the Year from the Country Music Association.
For all his success, Mac remains a humble and approachable man. He finished his performance and immediately came to a table to meet and greet his fans. While he had CDs and such for sale, he made it perfectly clear he wasn’t there to sell anything. He just wanted the chance to meet his fans and share a few stories with them. After all, how many times can you shake the hand of a man who has written so many songs and performed with artists like Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Sawyer Brown? I expect we’ll be hearing much more from Mac McAnally. I know I’m looking forward to it.
Not all mandolin picks are created equal…and with David Grisman’s development of Dawg picks, you’d be hard pressed to find a finer plectrum on the market.
Dawg picks are as close to real tortoise shell as you can get. With the combination of its unique shape and material make-up, these picks will enhance any mandolin players sound the first time it hits the strings. Most sound preferences are certainly a personal thing, but when I first tried a Dawg Pick it made an immediate difference to not only the tonal quality of my mandolin but the ease of working up and down the fingerboard.
You have a choice of 3 specially designed corners in which to achieve the sound you want out of your instrument. They will also allow you to “work” the pick to adjust to your personal playing style. You can achieve a mellow warmth as well as a “real bark” when needed during those “brassy banjo breaks”.
In addition, these picks will help with your tremolo technique the more you work with them. Their smooth edges will glide over your strings while producing great tonal qualities you may not have heard from your instrument before. In my opinion there is no better pick on the market…if it’s good for David Grisman…
You can purchase these picks at most acoustic music shops such as Elderly Instruments in Michigan. Try a few on for size…they will be a “sound” investment!
I’m watching and listening to Massive Grass on ReverbNation as I write this article. Something about having these guys picking and singing “I Don’t Give a Damn” as I write this just feels right. It’s a toe-tapper with easy on the ears melodies and traditionally arranged bluegrass harmonies. Oh yeah, and the fact that they’re getting this great sound while performing in a kitchen is just icing on the cake. Friends, I really think they just don’t give a damn!
But, I’m guessing you will give a damn after giving Massive Grass a listen. They play regularly at several North Carolina establishments and this band is looking to share their love of bluegrass and newgrass music at a live show so go out and see them. I am guessing this band is best experienced with a beer or two but that is not a requirement, just a suggestion.
You can learn more about Massive Grass by following them on Twitter @massivegrass. That’s how I found them. But to really enjoy their musical offerings head over to their site at Reverb Nation – http://www.reverbnation.com/massivegrass. Get ready to have a good time with these guys. Because when it comes to making great bluegrass music, Massive Grass really does give a damn!
One of the great joys of the internet is bringing entertainment to your desktop or mobile device. I’ve got a great place for you to turn your attention today. Head over to the website for Bo Isaac and the Rounders at http://www.boisaacandtherounders.com/ and give your eyes and ears a treat as you watch Bo Isaac and the current iteration of the Rounders. You see the Rounders do get a round and have a habit of changing band mates every so often. This music will delight your bluegrass senses and introduce you to Bo and his “real deal” brand of bluegrass music.
Like so many of today’s bluegrass up and comers, Bo cites early influences from his grandparents as a major source of inspiration. Like many proper Kentuckians, Bob was raised on the sounds of The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, and Flatt & Scruggs. Bo is a double threat on both fiddle and guitar and his vocalizations will make a believer out of you in no time.
Bo’s latest album is Dollar, which is described as a poetic bridge between the roots of traditional Bluegrass history and the trials we face in the modern world. The album title is a cry to the often futile struggle of making ends meet in a harsh economy. But don’t think this album is without uplifting inspiration. Look no further than “Flat Footin’ Tennessee” for a tune that will keep you tapping your toes and grinning with delight.
Current Rounders members who collaborated with Bo on Dollar include Elmer Burchett, Randy Thomas, Zach Rambo, Steve Thomas, Buck White and Haley Burchett. Bo Isaac and the Rounders prove how timeless the tradition of Bluegrass truly is, even in a shifting musical landscape.
What’s the difference between a Gentle boy and a Gentle man? In just a few years time this exciting quintet of gentle young men have become full-fledged bluegrass gentlemen. When I listen to their latest album, I hear everything from traditional bluegrass style harmonies to full out fun lyrics similar to some of my favorite Barenaked Ladies tunes. I defy you to listen to this album and define its genre. That’s a tribute to the versatility to the fine musicianship and well-crafted lyrics and vocalizations of The Deadly Gentlemen.
I’ve written about this band before (http://bluegrassspin.com/a_deadly_combination/) and I’m sure I’ll be talking about them for years to come. Needless to say, their latest album, “Roll Me, Tumble Me” is a must have for any fan of great music. There isn’t a bad track to be found here although I am quite partial to the title track as well as “All The Broken Pieces”. I recommend you pick up a copy from our preferred music partner, Amazon.com.
I can say first-hand that I happen to know two of the finest instrument builders around today. Jim DeCava of DeCava Instruments and Bob Flesher of Flesher’s Custom Banjos.
While growing up in Bridgeport, CT as a teenager I happened to stumble in on a small music shop located right on Main Street of all places. Now, Bridgeport CT was not known for bluegrass music, let alone banjo building.
The storefront appeared like any other Main Street business, but when you walked through the door you immediately knew “you weren’t in Kansas anymore”…not that everyone was really short, just that there was something different about it. I was a novice guitar player but I knew this wasn’t your ordinary music store.
At Liberty Banjo, you were somehow transported into another dimension…much like Twilight Zone meets Mayberry. Months later I learned that Liberty had its’ own brand of Mayberry townspeople. Everyone who walked through the door had their own “quirky” characteristic to contribute to the overall atmosphere of the shop. Each felt compelled to visit Liberty…not to spend money, just spend time. This added to the charm of the store and, what I believe to be now, the primary reason for its success.
I knew after that brief visit that I’d be back. Who knew a couple of years later I would be working there shaping necks, cutting & inlaying pearl and many other tasks to contribute to the construction of one the finest banjos on the market? We were also very fortunate to have celebrities visit the shop from time to time…Kevin Nealon of SNL fame and Bela Fleck for instance.
Bob Flesher was one of the owners and Jim DeCava was Liberty’s head luthier. Jim, especially, taught me so much in the time I was there. To this day I’ve felt it a privilege to know them as well as work with them. Not everyone can say they built banjos for a living! Both Bob & Jim continue to build great instruments today. It would be well worth the “cyber trip” to visit their respective sites. http://www.flesherbanjo.com/ & http://www.decavabanjos.com.
If you are fortunate to come across an original Liberty Banjo in your travels grab it! These were Mastertone grade instruments that were second to none for craftsmanship and tonal quality. Good luck on your quest!
Do you like your comedy in the style of Monty Python? Or is Saturday Night Live more to your taste? You like them both? British and American humor differ vastly except they both make you laugh. If that mix tastes good, wait until you get a load of the musical styling of Englishman James Hickman and his American counterpart, Dan Cassidy. The two collaborate as Hickman & Cassidy and when they perform; it is hard to imagine they are from bluegrass worlds an ocean apart.
Catching them live is another story. If you are in the UK, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see them live. Here in the States, your best bet is to buy their album and follow them on Twitter @Hickmancassidy and keep up with them at the links above. Or make the trip across the pond. I know of at least one bluegrass act you won’t want to miss. Cheers!
Every once and a while the Spinners here at Bluegrass Spin like to acknowledge some of the fine folks that follow us on Twitter. This time we’re shouting out to the fine folks at Weber Mandolins, where mandolins are only part of the story. These outstanding craftsmen also make world-class guitars and ukuleles. The story of their Montana-based legacy is well told at their own website and we encourage you to read all about the Weber story from the beginnings as Flatiron Mandolin and Banjo Company to their present incarnation as Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments. It is an inspirational story of how excellence and pride in production and quality of product lead to a loyal following of musical instrument enthusiasts and a superior product offering. Read the story for yourself at http://webermandolins.com/why-weber/history.
Bruce Weber sits at the helm of this enterprise and it is as much a labor of love as it is a business enterprise. He trains luthiers, not production line workers. That is why each and every instrument produced by Weber has been hand-detailed. That extra touch makes the difference between a simple instrument and an artisanal work of art.
As for the products produced by these luthiers, you should read the reviews or better yet, get your hands on a Weber Fine Acoustical Instrument and write your own review. Chances are you’ve already listened to one or more of their products at the last bluegrass concert or festival you attended. Check out their latest news stories at http://webermandolins.com/why-weber/weber-news. While you’re at it, follow them on Twitter at @webermandolin and follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WeberMandolinsGuitars. Tell them Bluegrass Spin sent you!