Neither act practices an especially pure strain of bluegrass, but they're both worth hearing. Chris Hillman will probably always be best known for music he made four decades ago, playing in country-rock progenitors the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. But he's stayed devoted to country, and in the 80s he founded the Desert Rose Band, pursuing a purer take on twang; that's where he began playing regularly with guitarist and banjoist Herb Pedersen (with whom he'd been working sporadically since the early 60s). They've maintained a duo since the late 90s, and on their latest album, the 2010 live release At Edwards Barn (Rounder), they merge bluegrass and honky-tonk (and even a touch of Mexican folk, on a version of "Tu Cancion"), whether on a revision of the Byrds hit "Eight Miles High" or on original gospel tunes. The vocal harmonies don't quite reach the heights Hillman achieved with Roger McGuinn and Gram Parsons, but they often come close—as you can hear on a lovely version of "Have You Seen Her Face," a Hillman tune he recorded with the Byrds.
Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen, "Have You Seen Her Face"
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Chatham County Line
The members of Chatham County Line came to bluegrass as college students, and their devotion to its old-school aesthetics didn't last especially long. On Sight & Sound (Yep Roc), a CD/DVD package of a 2010 concert in the band's hometown of Raleigh (with a few tunes from a concert in Atlanta), they bring a strong dose of rock to the music, even though they lack a drummer. Their songs venture well outside bluegrass territory, and the singing and vocal harmonies are blustery and ragged, departing from the usual high-lonesome sound; though their licks come from the bluegrass handbook, their chugging energy is more Steve Earle than Ralph Stanley. On the other hand, that energy is largely what sets them apart from the bluegrass heap. Below you can check out a video of "Closing Town" from the new release.