A handful of you might recognise a shift in bluegrass music where overqualified musicians from other worlds are joining our ranks (even actors/comedians like Steve Martin, Ed Helms & John C Reily) – and sticking around! Our own current band members Jacob McGuffie and Louis Gill have done the jazz course at the Victorian College of the Arts. Louis is currently doing post-grad studies. Over in the Mustered Courage Camp, Nick Keeling is an exemplary trombonist and versatile singer, Josh Bridges plays Brazilian music, Julian Abrahams rocks out on the Stratocaster and Paddy Montgomery is well known in traditional Greek music circles.
However, we want to recognise a Sydney based band, The Morrisons, of which banjo player Zane Banks earned a PhD on classical guitar at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Other band members include James Morrison on guitar and vocals, Jimmy Daley on mandolin and vocals, Miles Fraser on guitar and Elsen Price on bass. You may also see Anna McInerney and Marcus Holden join them on fiddle. Hailing from the Blue Mountains, The Morrisons are a raucous string band, forging elements of bluegrass, the increasingly popular alt-country, old-timey and folk to create a unique and contemporary Australian sound. They feature banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, harmonica, washboard and harmony singing and refer to themselves as a modern day string band. Their sound is reminiscent of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s epic album Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The music website Timber and Steel states boldly that “The Morrisons proved that Sydney bands can pick with the best of them,” and we’ve neither heard nor seen any different. Sydney-based and Melbourne-based bluegrass bands are neck and neck. You can stream their 7 track debut self-titled EP on their website. www.themorrisonsband.com
George Jackson just released a 5 track EP titled Observations. It showcases the inspiring result of a period of mentorship under US fiddle player Casey Driessen, supported by the Australia Council for the Arts. George has a highly evolved, creative musical brain. Just watching him over the years, his hands seem to have caught up to the speed of his imagination and this is by far the best we’ve seen it captured on a record. The band on the record is very strong too, supporting George well. George plays fiddle and banjo, Jake Stargel plays guitar, Dave Goldenberg plays mandolin and Andrew Smal plays bass. George and Andrew also work together with One Up, Two Down. Clear influences from David Grisman and the Punch Brothers can be heard, as well as George’s roots in Scottish music. The first recipient of the Australian Youth Bluegrass Scholarship is really starting to season as a musician and composer. He is making better music than ever and the future is looking brighter still. Note that Driessen is also visiting Australia for workshops and shows later in the year. www.georgejackson.com.au
The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass conference moved to Raleigh, North Carolina last year, after seven years in Nashville, and was welcomed with open arms from the southern city attracting an estimated 146,000 attendance during the week’s events. The IBMA have selected 30 bands (out of 166 applications) from across the globe to officially showcase at what they call ‘The Bluegrass Ramble’ which is the premier platform for introducing talent and new music to the bluegrass community. This year marks a landmark event as there will be TWO AUSTRALIAN ACTS officially showcasing, Mustered Courage and the Davidson Brothers! www.worldofbluegrass.org
It’s an exciting time in bluegrass right now, especially in the Davidson Brothers camp. We officially release our new album Wanderlust (recorded in Melbourne) on June 20. Preorder it before the release date and you might win a Gretsch banjo! www.davidsonbrothersband.com
On the International subject, we recently got to perform with the Alaska String Band, at the National Folk Festival, who completed a two month tour of Australia. Also we’ve heard that other Aussie acts heading overseas this year include Bluegrass Parkway and the Strezlecki Stringbusters.
In Queensland this year Redlands Bluegrass Festival will be celebrating their 20th event on August 8th-10th. The committee is planning on their biggest festival yet and are excited to announce the line-up will include Bluegrass Parkway, The Pigs, Davidson Brothers, Innes Campbell, The O’Donnells and the Round Mountain Girls.
Newly established MountainGrass bluegrass festival is in full preparation for their 2nd event to be staged in Harrietville, Victoria 14-16 November 2014. www.mountaingrass.com.au
This year’s headline is Grammy-Nominated, Compass Records recording act Special Consensus from the United States. A four person acoustic bluegrass band with a repertoire that features traditional bluegrass standards, original compositions by band members and professional songwriters, and songs from other musical genres performed in the bluegrass format. Formed in 1975, the band is fronted by Chicago based banjo player Greg Cahill who is a former president of the International Bluegrass Music Association and along with his band they’ve released 16 recordings, played the Grand Ole Opry and also developed a successful Traditional American Music program in schools across America. Having toured the national circuit for over three decades, Special C has since performed internationally in Europe, Canada, South America and the UK but this will be their first visit to Australia. www.specialc.com