Love this version of Bruce Springsteen's hit by Ruth Moody. Terrific mando playing, and the group arrangement is phenomenal!
Link: Ruth Moody "Dancing in the Dark"
Sierra Hull is one of my favorite mandolinists, not only for her obvious skill and tone, but also for the way she boldly reinvented her playing from a Tennessee bluegrass picker to one of the most creative acoustic composers on the scene today. Here's a throwback from 2013 with Justin Moses playing an old standard, "Temperance Reel."
Sierra Hull and Justin Moses, "Temperance Reel"
My dad's band played this when I was a kid, and I've always liked the song. A few years ago, I heard the Quebe Sister's version, and decided to learn the tune.
Here's my friend Jordan Ramsey playing "Dark Eyes." The arrangement belonged to Dave Peters, a terrific mandolin player who passed away a few years back.
I heard Jordan play this in a contest a few years ago, was blown away by his tone. A beautiful flawless sound.
Jason Anick is the violinist of the Rhythm Future Quartet, which is an American "gypsy jazz" band. This video is from his own quartet from a few years ago. I love his voice on electric mandolin. Great tone! This one is a five-string electric mandolin, which adds a low C note. Tuned C G D A E
What makes bluegrass harmony unique?
Haunting, strident, open-sounding
Listen: “Sweetheart of Mine Can't You Hear Me Calling” – Bill Monroe
Smooth singing, tight harmony.
Harmony stack changes depending on how high or low the lead singers voice falls.
Listen: “Little Georgia Rose” Seldom Scene
Usually on Gospel Songs, sometimes acapella.
Listen for the parts (Lead, Tenor, Baritone, Bass). Try to sing along on each part if you can!
Listen: “Goodnight, the Lord's Coming” Nashville Bluegrass Band
Fill-in Licks: A short musical idea played after the singer sings a line to the song.
Singer: “She's my Little Georgia Rose”
Banjo player: “Do do do do do do do.”
Fill in Licks are shared. A mandolin player may fill a certain verse, while the others contribute to the groove of the song. The next verse, maybe the fiddle player takes the fills. The musicians decide this in advance, or sometimes with just a nod.
Break: An instrumental solo taken after the chorus
Kickoff: The instrument that starts the song is playing the kickoff
Tag: When you sing the last line of the song again
Turnaround: A short break, when playing the full break would just be too much. Often on gospel songs.
The Starting Five
Banjo: Three finger playing, using the musical language developed out of North Carolina by Earl Scruggs and Don Reno. Syncopated, always in motion, similar sounds, but a pattern never quite emerges. Like listening to a jazz drummer's ride cymbal, a continual flow of rhythms created by a minimum of pitches.
Listen: “You are What I Am” by JD Crowe and the New South
Bass: A steady beat, a strong pull. Walking Bass. Leading the ear to the next chord. An occasional slap bass solo. Never more than once a weekend.
Listen:”Old and in the Way” by Old and In the Way
Mandolin: The Chop. It takes the place of the snare drum in bluegrass. The sole reason mandolin prices drift into the stratosphere depends on the builder's ability to supply this drug. Mandolin is a little instrument that can be played aggressively, or play the sweetest tremolo.
Listen: “Bringing in the Georgia Mail” Sam Bush
“Lonesome River” Here Today (David Grisman with Vince Gill and Herb Pederson)
Guitar: More than just strumming chords, most bluegrass guitarists have several bass runs in his or her repertoire. A bluegrass guitar sounds round, and fills out the meat of the song. It adds a dark color to a group of bright instruments. Sometimes you notice it more when it's gone than when it's there.
Listen:”Old Train” Tony Rice
Fiddle: The fiddle in bluegrass is smooth like a a stream flowing down a hill. Bluegrass fiddlers string together seemingly dozens of notes with each bow stroke. You can hear a good fiddle player weaving in and out of the lyric at just the right time, or playing a long tone underneath the music bed. The fiddle is the only instrument with no natural rhythmic role, so sometimes the fiddle drops out of the music all together.
Listening:”Trainwreck of Emotion” Del McCoury
Dobro: A Hawaiian Slide Guitar that's played on its side found its way into early country and bluegrass music through players like Brother Oswald and Josh Graves. Bluesy, lonesome, a cry. Like the fiddle, it has more of a role of supporting the music with melody instead of rhythm.
Listening:”On my Mind” Flatt and Scruggs
Bluegrass music was born when country music met jazz. In 1945, when Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys were fully formed, jazz music was in its heyday. Sometimes we like to think that bluegrass music is its own entity, raised from the dirt in the hills and hollars of Kentucky and Tennessee. It's just not true. It's the blending of styles that created bluegrass music. Old-time country, square dance fiddle tunes, blues, gospel, ragtime, and yes, jazz.
Just look at these early Bill Monroe titles:
Honky Tonk Swing
These are all reflective of what was on the radio and records in the 1930's. Bluegrass owes much to "hillbilly" musicians being heavily influenced by jazz. Listen to the walking bass lines in "Tennessee Blues," the polyphony of sounds in "Heavy Traffic Ahead," and the joy of adventure in Bill's playing on "Little Cabin Home on the Hill." It's absurd to think that these country boys from the south somehow never heard Louis Armstrong or Benny Goodman.
I would go so far to say, as that Earl Scrugg's rolling banjo style would not have developed without the influence of Benny Goodman, who was on NBC radio every Saturday night for awhile in the 1930's. Here's "Bugle Call Rag," first by Benny Goodman, then by "Flatt and Scruggs."
Link: Benny Goodman - Bugle Call Rag
Link: Flatt and Scruggs - Bugle Call Rag
When did you know you were going to play mandolin? I'll tell you when I did: the day I saw Don Steirnberg sitting in with Special Consensus. I was 13, and was blown away by the fresh sound, endless technique, and comedy (yes, comedy). That was a Saturday, I started playing mandolin the next day. What was it that registered inside of me? I don't know, but it seemed like it would be fun, and easy to carry!
What got you playing mandolin?
Link: Don Stiernberg Trio - "There Will Never be Another You"
Hamilton de Holanda is a bandolim player from Brazil. He reminds me of the bluegrass virtuosos I grew up listening to. Like Bela Fleck, Mark O'Conner, Edgar Meyer, or Jerry Douglas, his playing is technically perfect and emotionally rich at the same time. Incidentally, I've found putting "Hamilton de Holanda" into Pandora gives me a fun and relaxing mix of Brazilian Music!
Link: Baiao Brasil - Hamilton de Holanda