Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ear-openers at SuperGrass

What invariably amazes me at top-rung bluegrass festivals are the many hot young musicians, some I haven't heard of, that are tearing it up alongside the biggest names in the business. Here are a few to look out for when they come to a festival near you.

Justin Carbone isn't the flashiest picker on the scene, but there few faster than this New Jersey born guitarist and vocalist for Special Consensus. I've admired his playing for a while, but his "Justin Time" instrumental at SuperGrass really opened my ears.

Jesse Brock's mandolin sets the rhythm for Michael Cleveland and the other Flame Keeper soloists as he struts around the stage, but his own leads are breathtakingly fast and clean, such as in his mando-fiddle duet with Cleveland on Bill Monroe's Jerusalem Ridge.

The two young Jasons in the Kenny & Amanda Smith Band--Jason Robinson (mandolin) and Jason Davis (banjo)--provide cut-up stage banter but really impress when they cut loose on their instruments, such as in their tradeoff leads with Kenny Smith on his original instrumental "Studebaker."

In both appearance and talent, Dwight McCall might be the second coming of Ricky Skaggs as he contributes effortless mandolin leads with J.D. Crowe & The New South. His break on Crowe's classic "Old Home Place" is note for note from Ricky's work in the original 1975 recording.

Of course, there are also standout sidemen who are more seasoned. Notable among those I saw at SuperGrass are Craig Smith (banjo) and Scott Huffman (guitar) from Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands and Ron Spears (mandolin) of Special Consensus. Also Michael Cleveland is one of a kind fiddler, getting more notes out of his wildly gyrating bow than seems could be humanly possible.

Other eye-openers for me at SuperGrass were the down-home authenticity and energy of The Bluegrass Brothers and the old-time recreations of The Foghorn String Band.

Finally, I should mention that with my short stay at the festival I missed some bands, including top headliners The Grascals. From my previous experiences seeing The Grascals, Danny Roberts (mandolin) and James Mattingly (fiddle) certainly shred it as fast or faster than anyone else mentioned here.

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