Old, new, and a few in the gray
If any bluegrass fan had the chance to book a dream festival – minus Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs – the acts wouldn’t stray far from the heroes on etown’s new CD, “BlueGrassRoots.”And, with a track list like that of “BlueGrassRoots,” one might mistake it for the shortlist to Bluegrass heaven. The album includes Sam Bush, David Grisman, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas, Nickel Creek, Gillian Welch, Ricky Skaggs, Nick Forster, Mike Seeger, Tim O’Brien, Old & In The Gray and a fellow who is doubtless already there captaining a steamboat on heaven’s Mississippi River, the late John Hartford.Concerning etownFounded in 1991 by the personal funds of Nick and Helen Forster, etown is a nonprofit radio program based at the Boulder Theater, which airs 52 weeks a year on more than 150 stations across the United States.Nick Forster acts as etown’s host, co-executive producer and plays in the house band, which is a cinch for a man who played bass and guitar and provided vocals for Hot Rize – he has also played as a sideman for artists such as David Wilcox and Michelle Shocked.Helen Forster, who began her career as an actress, co-produces and co-hosts etown, which is a breeze for her considering she co-owned and produced the Telluride Bluegrass Festival for several years.And, etown is not necessarily bluegrass-centric. Featuring musicians from all over the world as well as authors, poets and policy-makers, etown generally concerns itself with artists who use their art to better standards of living and ameliorate the natural environment. The program is sponsored by such environmentally-conscious organizations as The Trust For Public Land, White Wave and Ben & Jerry’s.As a bluegrass-rooted couple, it’s only fitting that the Forsters would be so concerned with such noble causes. After all, bluegrass is the most organic of country music – traditionally swearing off use of electric instruments.The albumAs etown’s first genre-specific CD, “BlueGrassRoots” proves a great success and sets a lofty standard for the program’s upcoming, genre-specific CDs, which include blues, folk and roots and world music.”BlueGrassRoots” begins with a doozy in Nashville Bluegrass Band’s cover of “Blue Train.” The vocal harmonies steep this track, which was recorded at “Merlefest” in 1994, in a rich and sorrowful sound.The celebrated collaboration of Old & In The Gray – Vassar Clements, Bryn Bright, Herb Pederson, Rowan and Grisman – plays Rowan’s tune, “Meadow Green.”Nickel Creek adds a crisp version of O’Brien’s old tune, “Land’s End.”Next is a pleasant surprise from O’Brien and Douglas, as they put a unique bluegrass spin on Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.”Vancouver-based The Be Good Tanyas sing the old gospel tune “In My Time Of Dying” with a Robert Johnson-esque blue sound and a rhythm and narrative reminiscent of a rambling Johnny Cash.Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys croon “The Angels Are Singing In Heaven Tonight” then pick a rapid “Little Maggie.”Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder perform a song Skaggs wrote for his daughter, “Amanda Jewell,” Mike Seeger covers Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Grisman, Rice and Nick Forster pick “Train 45” and The Del McCoury Band covers Tom Petty’s “Love Is A Long Road.”As the album plays out, there’s more from Grisman and Rice, Rowan and Douglas, one by Bush and John Cowan, another by Hot Rize and a catchy two-minute piece titled “Woodchopper’s Reel” by Chris Thile – of Nickel Creek – and Nick Forster.And, the final song on the album is a true gem by Retrograss – Grisman, Seeger, Forster and Hartford. The group performs Hartford’s old classic “Gentle On My Mind,” and the moderately-paced, moving recording ended up being one of Hartford’s last.”BlueGrassRoots” is dedicated to the memory of Hartford.Andrew Harley can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.