Weirdo bluegrass: When misfits pick up old time instruments

by Patty Templeton

The phrase “know your roots,” used to be tossed around a lot. The idea of musicians and fans alike appreciating music from the ground up – the story arcs of the genres we know today. You can get to know your roots down at the Bluegrass Meltdown and then keep walking the bluegrass line to see what’s being birthed off the beaten path.

Punk rockers and all manner of musical hooligans have been pickin’ into their history. The underground roots music world is full of cats digging back to master and lovingly mutating old-time music. Here’s a few must-listen albums from interstitial bands who put their own spin on bluegrass.

“AKA the Mad Cat Trio,” by Bad LiversThe Bad Livers was the band Danny Barnes was in before he went solo. “AKA the Mad Cat Trio” is arguably the Bad Livers’ chilliest, most traditional album. You’ll find standards like “Down in the Willow Garden” played straight next to the jauntiest version of “Ace of Spades” that exists. It’s a good entry point to the Bad Livers building up to their more experimental, alt-country work.

“Cattle in the Cane,” by J.D. Wilkes with Charlie StamperWhen J.D. Wilkes isn’t on tour with his Southern Gothic roots and blues band, The Legendary Shack Shakers, or writing books like “The Vine that Ate the South,” he’s making solo albums like “Cattle in the Cane” with fiddler Charlie Stamper – yes, the brother of Art Stamper who played with the Stanley Brothers. The album has damn fine banjo pickin’ and even quicker fiddlin’.

“The Devil Makes Three,” by The Devil Makes ThreeStandup bass, guitar, banjo and dark hearts that have traveled hard roads, that’s The Devil Makes Three. They got a stack of atmospheric albums, so start at the beginning, with their self-titled album. It’s the kind of music you soak in while dancing with a shadow at midnight.

“Feast or Famine,” by Urban PioneersThe Urban Pioneers create music equally fitting to a Tennessee Sunday porch stomp or a Malört-drinking dive night in Chicago. Jared McGovern has gas-station gravel in this throat balanced by the high-toned joy of Sloan while she plays fiddle so hot it’ll give you blisters.

“Fire and Hail,” by The .357 String BandGeezus H. Generous Christ, The .357 String Band helped form the insurgent country scene with their self-proclaimed “streetgrass.” Listen to “Down on a Bender” and tell me you don’t want to holler along. You can’t catch ’em live – they broke up – but you can still catch hella-active solo albums by banjo player Joseph Huber and mandolin maniac Jayke Orvis.

“Hatchetations,” by Carrie Nation and the SpeakeasyWhat the hell is brass and grass? It’s Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy. “Hatchetations” is a full-tilt boogie of bluegrass, ska, punk, and Dixieland done at breakneck speeds. They’re anarchically brilliant, high-energy hellions who could soundtrack rug-cutting as easily as revolutions.

Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer

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