Rounder Bluegrass Tour | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Rounder Bluegrass Tour

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This superb bill deftly counters many preconceptions about bluegrass. Although it's often maligned as hillbilly music, at its best the genre bristles with unbounded energy and dazzling instrumental lyricism. Organized by Rounder Records, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary as one of the premier presenters of American roots music, this package tour attests not only to the music's vitality but to its diversity. J.D. Crowe is a banjo virtuoso whose quicksilver grace identifies him as bluegrass's primo exponent of Lester Scruggs-style playing. Rather than the high, keening Bill Monroe-like vocals that usually distinguish bluegrass, his latest album, Flashback, features the soft, more contemporary voice of guitarist Richard Bennett. The record looks back, as the title suggests, but also delivers an impressive passel of new originals. Fiddler and singer Laurie Lewis traverses a more modern sound--wandering outside of the style's boundaries and incorporating the literate qualities associated with the new-folk movement--but still fully recognizes and draws upon tradition. Finally, singer/guitarist Del McCoury can be counted on for a blast of tradition and bluegrass-inflected country nuggets. On his superb new album A Deeper Shade of Blue he vibrantly treats a classic by Lefty Frizzell ("If You've Got the Money Honey"), a Jerry Lee Lewis hit ("What Made Milwaukee Famous"), and tunes by new-breed artist Kevin Welch ("True Love Never Dies") and blues pianist Leroy Carr ("How Long Blues"). For the bluegrass newcomer, this terrific bill offers an excellent introduction. Saturday, 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage; 525-3655.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Irene Young, Senor McGuire, Jim McGuire.

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