Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Bluegrass: What to Look for in 2014 - Part I

What to Look for in 2014\

I've been thinking about and anticipating the upcoming year in bluegrass music. It seems to me that bluegrass is on the upswing right now. Individuals, bands, and audiences are looking for something fresh which is simultaneously familiar. Many of us of a certain age no longer seek raucous, extremely loud music or the redolence of weed combined with the unencumbered looseness of alcohol while still wanting the beat and excitement of country music and classic rock both reflecting their sourcing in blues and the ancient tones. So let's take a look at what is, at best, an educated guess about the year to come. Today, I'm presenting seven bands that we've either seen or are familiar with. In the next part, I take a look at some of the trends I think will begin to be realized in the coming year.

Adkins & Loudermilk – Newly formed and not even completely staffed at this point, Adkins & Loudermilk show great promise. David Adkins brings an animated, bluesy bluegrass/country/blues singing style that can be heard in his voice and seen in his on-stage presence. During his past couple of years of touring, he's been reluctant to showcase himself, relying instead on classic bluegrass and a few grassed rock or country songs. He looks ready to break out in a new direction. This will be encouraged by his teaming with Edgar Loudermilk, fresh off several years with Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, where he replaced Ray Deaton on bass. Edgar has released two solo projects which hint at his willingness to test boundaries without reaching beyond the tolerance of his audience. Already widely booked for 2014, Adkins & Loudermilk is fresh out of the box and ready to go. 

 Dave Adkins

 Edgar Loudermilk

Breaking Grass – This Mississippi-based band made a good start at spreading its wings two years ago at IBMA's World of Bluegrass with several showcases. A country-bluegrass fusion, it relies on the energy, voice, and vision of singer/songwriter Cody Farrar while reeking of the energy brought by a strong supply of side-men, all from the same northern Mississippi region. Their covers of New Grass Revival classics and Farrars songs is strong and growing. Steven Mougin (The Sam Bush Band) produced their latest CD and is working with the band to sharpen its sound and presentation.

 Cody Farrar - Breaking Grass

The Bankesters – A six piece family band, now including son-in-law Kyle Triplett began life as a gospel band about nine years ago. They have released four CD's and come under the wing of band-meister Steven Mougin, who has helped them grow and develop over the past couple of years as well as producing their most recent recording. The three daughters's (Melissa, Emily, and Alysha) voices are maturing and mellowing into an increasingly pleasing sound, while their repertoire has expanded far beyond their initial gospel base. 

The Bankesters - Emily, Allysha, Melissa

Feller & Hill – Tom Feller and Chris Hill are seasoned troopers with a strong familial and performance base in the sound and tradtion of the boys from Indiana. Tom is a nephew of Aubrey Holt. They made their singing debut together two years ago at The MACC (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer) in Columbus, OH in 2012 and debuted their band, Feller & Hill and the Bluegrass Buckaroos (too many ands) there the next year. Look for this band to continue a trend to mixing various forms of bluegrass with traditional country roots. Both Tom and Chris are experienced performers, eager to please, and ready to explore the vast possibilites within the genre they inhabit.

Tom Feller & Chris Hill

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out – With both the extremely valuable Steve Dilling and the reliable Edgar Loudermilk stepping down, and perhaps more changes in the offing, Russell Moore is faced with seeking to resurrect his band once again. Don't count him out. IIIrd Tyme Out accomplished the task once before after its fall from top of the heap to also ran under Ray Deaton's leadership. Russell Moore, who was sidelined a year ago by straining his marvelous vocal instrument, still has a great voice, but needs to rest it from time-to-time these days. Bringing Blake Johnson on board adds a wonderful, contemporary voice to his band as well as youth. How Russell re-imagines the band's sound and fills the holes will be well worth watching during 2014. I'm betting on his finding the key.

Russell Moore

Sideline – While we're betting, here's another band which could easily go either way. Sideline began as a part time project by a group of (mostly) North Carolina musicians located around the Cary area. They met together to play in local venues as more of a lark than anything else. It's easy to see the other bands that have succeeded from such beginnings, most notably the Grascals, whose genesis was a band called The Sidemen at the Station Inn. Steve Dilling, perhaps the pre-eminent band emcee in the business these days, decided to leave full-time touring to take a back-office job with Jordan Enterprises, will provide the band with a huge wealth of experience as well as humor and grace. Jason Moore, an original member of Mountain Heart, but a go-to fill-in with many bands on bass is reliable and versatile. Darrell Webb, a journey man whose instrumental and vocal skills have yet to find a permanent home will add a great deal to this band. Skip Cherryholmes, Dilling's son-in-law, and Justen Haynes, round out the band. They've released a new CD with Mountain Fever, with more promised. The big question about this band will be whether their other commitments will allow them break out. For sure, they'll need to become a more consistent web presence to help spread the word.

Skip Cherryholmes, Steve Dilling, Jason Moore,
Justen Haynes & Darrell Webb

Unspoken Tradition – Formed out of a group of young musician, many of whom had studied under Darin Aldridge, and born as a band at the fabled Bomb Shelter in Cherryville, NC, Unspoken Tradition is just beginning to unfold its wings. When we heard them at the Joy Theater a year ago, they showed a leap of confidence and quality that marked them as comers. Under the leadership of Audie McGinnis, they have been writing their own contemporary bluegrass influenced earlier greats as well as bands like LRB, Balsam Range, Blue Highway, and Mountain Heart. Their new CD, Simple Little Town shows promise, and having Ty Gilpin in the band can't hurt their recording future. 

Unspoken Tradition

Kevin Richardson & Cutting Edge - Kevin Richardson has toured with Larry Stephenson and with Lou Reid, contributing his bluesy bluegrass voice and excellent flat picking to both bands. He made the decision to take on Cutting Edge as a full-time project about two years ago. This band, filled with solid people who are also excellent song writers brings regional experience and strong song writing skills, which enables them to play plenty of original music along with well-chosen covers. KRACE competes in the hot bluegrass state of North Carolina, making it exceptionally difficult to stand out, but this band deserves attention.


Kevin Richardson

Volume V - Glen Harrell is a fine fiddler and presents a strong personality on stage. Volume V, located in northern Mississippi has toured with Marty Raybon and David Davis. He's surrounded himself with both experience and youth. Jeff Partin is a talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, while Patton Wages is familiar to banjo players. Their rendition of Shawn Camp's  "That's Not the Granpa that I Knew" will tear your heart out. Last year they appeared to excellent responses at Gettysburg. They make their debut at Merlefest this year as well as playing Silver Dollar City. This band might be a strong candidate for IBMA Emerging Artist in 2014.

Volume V

Glen Harrell

Each band in the list above shows promise for the future. One is already widely well-established and has one of the great records of accomplishment, but is now faced with proving itself all over again. Others have been around for a while, but are poised to move forward. One is still almost completely unknown, but worthy of attention. There are certainly others bands that we haven't seen and heard yet that belong on such a list, so you should make your own. Meanwhile, promoters might be able to book these bands early on and then say, “I booked them before their name was a household word.”