Crossing County Lines

After a week heavy on tradition and four visions of gradual change at our Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America night (see HERE for details), we felt the need to once again celebrate the transgressive and the progressive – to roll the dice and see what happens with some bands famous for hopping over fences and scaring a few folks even as they delight a hell of a lot more.

Wild and wooly, Henry Wagons has asserted himself as the new alt-country icon of Australia, and his sojourns stateside have been very well received. He’s earned the fandom of Justin Townes Earle, whom he sounds a bit like and with whom he’s shared bills. The scion of the Earle hard country songwriting tradition has said that Wagons is a fusion of Dr. Seuss and Conway Twitty, if you can wrap your head around that. Those who’ve seen Henry Wagons report brazen charisma and over-the-top rockin’, fueled by songs that say something. His big Cash-like baritone went over great at last fall’s Americana conference, and as some of his YouTube videos show, he’s capable of holding giant theaters full of folk engaged, and that’s not easy. Come get on the Wagons bandwagon.

Meanwhile the Mosier Brothers have been sticking it in the eye of orthodoxy for years. Formed out of the core behind famed Blueground Undergrass, the new Mosier Brothers have also secured alums of Widespread Panic and Col. Bruce Hampton’s bands. BU, not to be confused with our sister show Bluegrass Underground (though can’t you see the poster for that gig?) are architects of Southern jamgrass, though they say in their bio that this combo was born out of a desire to turn down the volume and put the song out front. “We used to call (the Blueground Undergrass sound) a ‘wall of twang,’ and it was a lot of fun,” says Rev. Jeff Mosier on the website. “Now it’s a different time. I think people really want to hear songs right now. I want to be held accountable for the lyrical content.” Got it Jeff. We’ll be taking notes.

Even our one “traditional” bluegrass band, North Carolina’s Chatham County Line, has its own way of tightrope walking on the edge. Their suits and round-one-mike style of performing owes everything to the lineage of Del McCoury, Flatt & Scruggs, and etc. But without a rearing that included the whole FM panoply from Steely Dan to AC/DC, they wouldn’t sound like they do, which to my mind is impeccably modern. Their blues are brazen. Their picking is penetrating. Their singing sublime. The current album is Wildwood, though we’re sure to talk about the live album they’re currently mixing.

Balancing out all this visionary stuff is a nod backward toward the sound of home-made music and sacred tunes of the early 20th century. The band is Kindling Stone, a trio that takes much of its inspiration from Shaker hymns, shape-note singing and old time. Columnist Ray Waddle described their ambience as “a 21st-century zone of mindfulness and peace, a counterpoint to the furious in-your-face society we’ve made for ourselves. The music is austere, calming, evoking centuries of prayer in tiny chapels…it offers an uncorrupted witness to something better inside us.” That’s high-falootin’ praise for a high-integrity group that will, as George Hay used to urge at the Opry, keep it down to earth.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we’ll get to hear an artist who’s stirred a lot of curiosity from our team, because, well, she’s Steve Winwood’s daughter, and who wouldn’t want to find out how that’s worked out? Lilly Winwood and the great Mr. W (of Traffic and Blind Faith and “Higher Love” fame) were at a recent Roots, taking in the scene. It’ll be an exciting moment when this still very young artist takes the stage to show off her songs and her style.

Does this sound as enticing to you as it does to us? Hope so. See you at the barn.

Craig H.

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