12.26.2003 || 00h37

happy X-mas, smokey mountain style

Bluegrass has its roots in the music of the street-class people who emigrated to the new world in the 1600s, which is why so much of it, sans vocals, sounds like it was lifted right out of Scotland. Of course, a new nation meant new stuff to sing about and new sounds, though the musical family traditions from the old countries were nicely kept alive. As 'Hillbilly Music' began to become an entrenched part of life in the Carolinas, Virginias, Kentucky and Tennessee, it began to develop into a truly American sort of mutt and march towards what we now consider 'bluegrass.'

To-day's bluegrass music is patterned as closely as possible after Bill Monroe's band the Blue Grass Boys, which was founded in the 1930's and first played the Grand Ole Opry in 1939. The band (named after the Blue Grass State, which is Kentucky) apparently incorporated string band and both black and white gospel rhythms and elements of blues. Likewise, the distinctive high, nasal lead vocal style is a direct homage to Bill Monroe's singing style. He also set up the three or four-part harmonies that fill out the bluegrass sound.

There's also an extremely rigid instrument setup for the traditional bluegrass band: Guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin and bass fiddle. The dobro is now also considered integral to the sound, though that was an innovation brought about by Earl Scaggs and Lester Flat, who left the Blue Grass Band to form their own group in the late '40s. In fact, most true bluegrass aficionados seem to agree that the traditional bluegrass sound can be carbon-dated to 1946, when Monroe's sound and ideas gelled with Earl Scruggs' new and flashy three-finger picking style.

The term 'bluegrass' to describe the musical genre appeared in the 1950s. Bluegrass these days is being pulled in all kinds of directions, including Newgrass (which shows Rock 'n' roll influences), jazz fusion, and Southern gospel, as well as being pulled back towards Celtic music.

All this explains why there are so many bluegrass bands featured on Chieftains discs and why so many of the Celtic pub bands around here do at least one or two bluegrass songs (though thankfully I haven't heard *one* of them try to do that silly Monroe vocal style), as well as why you'll never hear a tin-whistle or Uilleann pipes in a traditional bluegrass jam session.

So, why am I thinking about alladis? Because we bought the Slut a banjo for X-mas, and it got me to wondering why the redheaded stepchild of my favourite music's only got a 6-instrument gamut to choose from.

I've also decided that I can handle bluegrass when it's played by the Swerve or other local pub band because they don't stick to the Kentucky bluegrassprint. The songs become much cooler without the slavish dum-dom, dum-dom of the bass and the irritating nasal whine. There. I've made my peace with the 'grass. Now you make yours.



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