Friday, May 20, 2011

grass|roots :: Jerry Douglas


By Jon Stone@jwstone

grass|roots -- ep. 1

I don't remember the first time I heard Jerry Douglas play, but I do recall when I first started to notice. It was on a solo number -- "Tribute to Peador O'Donnell" -- on the live Alison Krauss and Union Station record.  It wasn't life-changing so much as it was game-changing. Hearing Douglas -- his virtuosity, his unmistakable style, and, really, hearing what a resophonic guitar (or Dobro) can do -- was like stumbling upon something completely new, yet totally familiar.

Jerry Douglas put a new face on "country" music for me. Five or six years ago, I barely knew bluegrass/roots from Toby Keith (or country from Country), so Jerry Douglas (and, to be fair Alison Krauss and the rest of Union Station) got me and my preconceived notions out of I Love this Bar & Grill and on my way into a wonderfully rewarding musical exploration. He's been called the greatest Dobro player who ever lived and in addition to thirteen solo records (since 1979), he's contributed his special brand of slide to over 1600 albums. 1600! I had the great pleasure of seeing him play at last year's Ellnora guitar festival at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana, IL. It rates among the best few hours of live music that I've ever heard. (I still can't believe that it was a free show--thanks Krannert!)

As many of you likely know better than me, American Roots Music is a voluminous and multi-chambered instrument. It encompasses country and blues, gospel and old-time, folk and bluegrass, among others. In essence, when you think about it, these genres make up the bedrock of influence for many if not most of the bands that we love here at Muzzle of Bees. Of course, from these "roots" would grow the more dominant genres of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and jazz which would each come to define the nation musically (and which we like quite a bit here too). But there is something intriguing to me about acoustic instruments and musicians that typify roots and especially bluegrass music -- something familiar and true.

So begins a new regular feature here at Muzzle of Bees that I'll be calling, simply, "grass|roots". I'll be trying my best to get a handle on the genres listed above by documenting my own exploration of them. I'll start early next week with review of Béla Fleck's show here in Urbana on Valentine's eve, and will press forward from there with album and concert reviews, artist and label spotlights, and whatever else seems related and relevant.

I start with Jerry Douglas because his work rubs up against, influences, or in some other way resonates with so much of what interests me currently in roots music.  I'm compelled by the growing, modern grass-hybrid genre (sometimes called "progressive" or "newgrass") that he is so often connected with (and that I have written about before) and will continue to explore it here. Watch for upcoming posts on Tony Rice, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, and Mark O'Conner just to name a very few.

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