When Missy Raines, a seven-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bass Player of the Year Award, formed an acoustic progressive jazz band a few years ago, I’m sure a few bluegrass purists thought it was the downfall of Western Civilization. But for myself and lots of music enthusiasts, it was a sign of all that’s right and wonderful about bluegrass music. It’s a mighty mountain unto itself, but it’s a great place to base jump from as well, and great musicians should be free to do so.
Missy and her band The New Hip released their debut album Inside Out independently, and it was picked up as a formal release by the adventuresome Compass Records in early 2009. Missy has had a long row to hoe building up awareness of her music, given it was mostly instrumental and that it was often not covered by the bluegrass media, where she was best known. But I’ve watched with delight as her tour schedule has gotten fuller and as her inventive spirit has won folks over.
Missy lent her vocals to three songs on Inside Out, and they were a revelation. I had no idea her voice was such an appealing alto, and I thought her interpretive skills were great. And now that she’s in pre-production on her next album, she reports that the ratio of songs to instrumentals is flipping. “I always imagined I would be doing a fair bit of singing,” she says. “I had to take the time to actually find what direction that vocal thing wanted to go. I’ve been playing bass all my life. That was easy. But the vocals was something frankly not as thought out. I knew I wanted it but I wasn’t sure what that was going to mean or how those tunes were going to be realized. That’s what I’ve been doing for a while.”
That’s included co-writing for the first time in her life, so we’ll hear some original songs in addition to her well-chosen covers. Rest assured there’s still plenty of enthusiasm and skill in the band for improvisation. Guitarist Ethan Ballinger is almost exclusively playing electric guitar now, and he’s got feel that extends from traditional to contemporary. Jarrod Walker plays mandolin, keeping a thread back to bluegrass music (and they always play a tune by Bill Monroe as a tip to his own boundary-breaking style). Josh Fox is a killer drummer. This is ensemble playing at its finest.
Besides Missy, we’re looking forward to hearing four other supremely hip artists with a lot to say themselves. Fer instance, we’ll get a debut visit from English folk pop artist Callaghan. She made her way to the US after getting esteemed songwriter Shawn Mullins to agree to produce her debut album. That led to a migration to Atlanta, which is her base as she mounts a rather successful assault on pop and AAA radio. Her sprightly single “Best Year” is tuned for summer listening.
Allen Thompson is making a return visit. When this Roanoke, VA native and East Nashville transplant played Roots a year ago, we were taken by his righteously rooted country and folk. It’s timeless, but also updated for urban hipsters. Last I heard, a new record was in the works, so there will likely be some fresh material. Eileen Rose is also from Nashville (birthed in Boston) and also puts her own stamp on the country/roots tradition. She’s a regular down in the real deal honky tonks of Lower Broadway, and she gets raves from those thirsting for yearning, burning blue-hearted country. This is an itch we’re happy to have scratched every week.
And rounding out the show in the closing slot is a guy-slash-band known as My Name Is John Michael. I love what I’ve heard online. Leader John Michael Rouchell has a spectacular and bold voice. And hey he’s from New Orleans, so he’s steeped in the sweetest grooves in our fair country. We’ll see you hipsters there.