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Bluegrass Breakdown

[whitespace] In praise of that high and lonesome sound

By Greg Cahill

Various Artists
Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza
Acoustic Disc

BLUEGRASS mandolinist Ronnie McCoury--son of the legendary guitarist and bandleader Del McCoury, whose latest recording has teamed him with Nashville renegade Steve Earl--dreamed up this project while thinking about all the great country mandolinists he's played with through the years. It's no wonder that thought led him to mondo mando man David Grisman, a Mill Valley resident and label chief, who helped make McCoury's dream a reeling, rollicking reality. McCoury and Grisman form the basis for this two-CD set that features the cream of the bluegrass crop, including Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Frank Wakefield, Jesse McReynolds, Bobby Osbourne, and Buck White. Del McCoury--who brings his red-hot band to the Luther Burbank Center on June 15, when he opens for Skaggs--sits in on a few of the songs as well. And the spirit of bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe pervades these sessions, which include nine tracks covered by Monroe and a couple of others dedicated to him. Fingerpickin' good.


Tara Nevins
Mule to Ride
Sugar Hill

IN A PERFECT WORLD, country superstar Shania Twain--cute as she is--would still be playing Canadian lounges and Tara Nevins would be hosting those network TV showcases and trading quips with the Back Street Boys. Over the past decade, bluegrass fiddler and vocalist Nevins has whiled away her time as part of the all-female Heartbeats--which exploits modern backbeats--and the genre-busting Donna the Buffalo. But this time out, Nevins has hitched her star to a different mule, traditional bluegrass, a country original, and plenty of old-timey standards (though "Sweet Sensations" by the reggae greats the Melodians also gets a new country flavor here, as does Bob Marley's "Talkin' Blues"). The results are spectacular. Nevins is a gracious bandleader, stepping back to hand over the spotlight to an all-star lineup of guests that includes bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, Mike Seeger, Christine Balfa, Don Rigsby of the Lonesome River Band, and Clinch Mountain Boy James Shelton. Twenty songs, 20 artists, scads of fine fiddlin'. At a time when the genre is hitting a creative peak, this is one of the year's best bluegrass CDs.

Folk notes: Fine pickin' will be on display this week when the three-day 12th annual Sonoma County Folk Festival gets under way with concerts, dances, jams, crafts, workshops, and children's events. The annual confab kicks off with a contra dance featuring Bruce Molsky & Big Hoedown on Friday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Vintage House, 264 First St. E., Sonoma. At the same time, the Savoy Swingers (now there's a liberal definition of folk music) hold court at the Sebastopol Community Center, 390 Morris St. On Saturday, May 8, Robin and Linda Williams--the singer/songwriter duo whose tunes have been covered by Tom T. Hall, Emmylou Harris, and Mary Chapin Carpenter--headline an all-day show (from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) at the Sebastopol Community Center. Also performing are Bryan Bowers, Bruce Molsky & Big Hoedown, Conjunto Jardin, Nobody You Know, Caliban, Anzanga, and Hoof Hearted. On Sunday, May 9, there will be an afternoon concert at the community center (from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) featuring the trio of Robin Flower, Libby McLaren, and Nancy Vogel, plus Love Choir, Yona Fleming, and Rick Shubb and Bob Wilson. For ticket and schedule info, call 838-4857.

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From the May 6-12, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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