Why don’t more jam band fans dig bluegrass? It’s practically the same aesthetic. The stringed wizardry, the unerring interplay and the long jams (especially the newer ‘grass bands and the fusion bluegrass bands known as new-grass or jazz-grass) have so much in common with the hippie vibe of good jam bands. With that, let me introduce you to North Carolina’s Nu-Blu and their All The Way CD (their fifth) on the aptly named Rural Rhythm Records.
It starts with “That’s What Makes The Bluegrass Blue” with Rhonda Vincent (one of the current reigning bluegrass queens). It’s a song about the 1939 Duvin mine explosion in Kentucky from the point-of-view of a young girl’s grief over losing her fiancé. It ends with “Jesus And Jones,” a tribute to one of the greatest singers in any genre, George Jones [1931-2013] with soul legend Sam Moore. The eight tracks in between run the gamut from the hardy “It’s Not That Cold In Montana” to yet another great train song, “Rhythm Of The Train.” All The Way is adventurous, instrumentally wild and imbued with a fast-faster-fastest string barrage of dexterous finger-pickin’. Vocals adhere to that “high lonesome” sound, a Bill Monroe-invented harmonic balancing act featuring super-high harmonic lacing.
If what’s on the 51st edition of the über-popular Now That’s What I Call Music series is any indication of the state of pop music these days, I’ll be more than happy to subsist on my steady diet of jazz, blues, country (except the new crap), rock ‘n’ roll (except the new crap), funk, soul, worldbeat and folk. I tried, I really tried, but these tracks by Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Iggy Azelea, Pitbull, Paramore, Demi Lovato, Sia, Kongos, 5 Seconds Of Summer, Rixton, Sam Smith, Idina Menzel and Luke Bryan all suck. Every single one of ‘em. I consider it my job to keep up with what children are listening to. I can only hope they grow up and start developing an ear. When I was a kid, I had Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, Paul Simon, Dylan, T-Rex, Led Zep, Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Donovan, Mountain, 10 Years After, Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Harry Nilsson, Bowie, Small Faces, Humble Pie, Steppenwolf, Black Sabbath and a few dozen others floating around in my brain. But, then again, who’s to say?
We got some real good blues from a band called Mississippi Heat: their Warning Shot (Delmark) is a blister ready to pop. 16 songs (including a cover of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart”) and no filler made my day upon first listen and I’m keepin’ this one! Straight out of Chicago, band leader/harmonica man Pierre LaCocque and lead singer Inetta Visor make this sucker jump and shout. Add a cast of 12 including Sax Gordon on—what else?—sax, and you’ve got a Warning Shot that goes right into your heart. From Delta Blues to Urban Blues, from Swing Boogie to Latin Beats, from Jungle Mystery to Calypso Fun, this is a band meant to satisfy. The only thing better would be to see them in person.
JW Jones is a Canadian guitarist/vocalist who puts soul in his blues, enough to last for the duration of Belmont Boulevard (Blind Pig). Autobiographical in nature, written with producer Tom Hambridge (who earned his credibility producing Buddy Guy, George Thorogood and Susan Tedeschi), these 12 tracks, ending with “Cocaine Boy,” show an artist first reaching his potential. In a genre where the color of your skin means more if it’s dark, this fair-haired young lad is the, uh, Justin Timberlake of the blues.