It’s Saturday night. Instead of relaxing safe at home plopped comfortably in front of your big screen TV, you’ve got your hind quarters parked squarely on a hard folding chair. If that’s the case, chances are you’re either at a festival watching your favorite bluegrass band, or perhaps you’re huddled under a tarp in the pouring rain jamming with friends or total strangers at a fiddlers convention. Either way, you often witness secret or not-so-secret signals or cues from one musician to the rest of the group to alert them that a song or tune is about to end. This article will help you decode many of the secret signals that are commonly used at bluegrass and old-time jams and performances.
If you’re watching a bluegrass band that’s used to playing together, you might not see any signals at all. Just last night was I was chatting with Bobby Hicks, a long time Bluegrass Boy and fiddler. I asked him how Monroe signaled to the band when a song was supposed to stop. He said Bill never used any kind of signal. He explained that after you played night after night on the road with Bill, you knew exactly where and when a song was going to end. He did point out that after the song was over, Monroe often raised his white hat in the air while the audience wildly applauded.
If the sound of the mandolin catches your ear and you think you’d like to learn how to play then ‘Easy 2-Chord Songs for Mandolin’ by Wayne Erbsen from Native Ground Books & Music in Asheville, NC serves as an ideal introduction to the instrument. Wayne Erbsen is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist whose banjo and fiddle instructional videos appear on YouTube. Here he brings us an engaging and accessible volume written in a relaxed tone with an emphasis on enjoyment of the mandolin that includes thirty nine familiar tunes from bluegrass, old-time, folk and gospel styles. An audio CD accompanies the book.
A Heart Never Knows, the first full release from The Price Sisters on Rebel Records, is an exceptionally entertaining CD, an apt follow-up to their well-received 2016 EP, The Price Sisters.
Lauren and Leanna Price are twins in their early 20s who grew up near the Ohio River Valley town of Sardis, down in the steep hills of Southeast Ohio, an area that is culturally and topographically more akin to the mountains of West Virginia than to most of the Buckeye state.
As eight year olds Lauren and Leanna fell in love with the old-time country music in the O Brother soundtrack and started playing mandolin and fiddle. Over time they developed a particular affinity for Bluegrass music, especially the early recordings of Bill Monroe. After high school they left Ohio to attend college, first in West Virginia for a spell and then in Kentucky, where they earned degrees in traditional music at Morehead State University.
On an uncharacteristically warm and bright day in mid-February, I caught up with Eric and Leigh Gibson to talk about their music and their upcoming April 14th performance for the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association. The Gibson Brothers were touring in Florida, enjoying a little down time and the relaxed atmosphere around the Hollowpoint Farm. Eric had previously said to me, “I hope to get in some good walks.” What follows are some highlights from our conversation that touched on music, community, story-telling and creativity. I spoke with Eric first, then followed up with a separate conversation with Leigh.
With Eric Gibson–
Chris: The HVBA is an organization and audience that knows you well. In many ways, they are your home audience. What do you want them to know about the Gibson Brothers that is new and enticing when thinking ahead to the April, 2018 show?
Eric: Yeah, it’s been a couple years since we played for the Hudson Valley folks, and it’s been fun every time. They’re just fun to hang out with. In addition to providing a good place to play, they entertain us! (laughs)
Chris: So this will be the first time you’ve seen them since In The Ground came out?
Sam Bush has a great rant about "Bluegrass Unlimited," and on first listen this album certainly fits into "Unlimited"!
Alt-Bluegrass? Country? Folk? Rock? Yup, there're drums. But the instruments are acoustic. The fiddle is sweet. The vocals carry more than a touch of The Byrds. The songwriting is beyond solid. And this band and this album are both so much more than the sum of their parts.
The album opens with "Out My Window," which is a fitting introduction to the ride you're in for over the rest of the album. The songs are all "Alt-Bluegrass," but the breaks are all bluegrass. Genre-bending? For sure.
"Out My Window"
When you hit "Wallflower" at track three you're not going to have any problem at all imaging Roy Orbison singing this track. "Atmospheric Bluegrass?" Not spacey, but it carries a great aura. Yeah, it's THAT good!
Raining In Baltimore is Kim Robin's sophomore album, coming four years and many miles of touring after 40 Years Late debuted in 2013.
While Raining In Baltimore is being billed as a bluegrass album it could just as easily be sent out as country, and if you consider the lack of electric instruments and drums, plus a certain twang to the vocals, as a sign of traditional country then I'm not about to argue which genre you put good music into. :-)
The title track of Raining In Baltimore indeed invokes a rainy night in the city, and while it's not the opening track it is a fitting introduction to Kim and especially her strong vocals. It also shows Kim has a real forte in traditional ballads of love and murder. Since she wrote the song it shows up and coming songwriting talent too.