Putumayo Presents Bluegrass
Putumayo World Music
3 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
A long, long time ago when there were such things, I worked at a Borders Books & Music in the CD department. We sold a lot of Putumayo World Music samplers, especially when we played them on the store stereo. The strange sounds would pique a shopper’s interest and they’d ask us for a CD.
It was around that time that I developed my interest in bluegrass music, and since then, I’ve been making the contention that bluegrass should be regarded as an American, indeed a Southern, contribution to world music.
It comes from a certain place, it has a set of cultural experiences that accompany the music (festivals, jamming, house concerts, etc.), and there remains pure variants of it while other strains grow wild.
It’s hard to encapsulate that in 13 tracks and 50 minutes, but Putumayo has done a fair job.
Kicking off with Alison Krauss’ “Every Time You Say Goodbye” is a no-brainer, as her voice is the most accessible and world famous to emerge from bluegrass music, while this arrangement is a classic example of modern bluegrass. Another killer track is the Seldom Scene’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather,” which was an oft-requested number in my days as a deejay. Bluegrass stalwarts Tim Stafford (vocal) and James Alan Shelton turn in a workmanlike “Shady Grove” as well.
Another well-known cut is Peter Rowan’s loosely swinging “Man of Constant Sorrow,” as different a take from the O Brother version as can be imagined, but one in keeping with the jam band bent that is one of the strongest running through this album. Railroad Earth, Crooked Still, Uncle Earl, and Town Mountain join Sam Bush and the hallowed duo of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman on the list of that hard-to-define but easy-to-market variant of bluegrass and Americana.
Andrea Zonn and Alison Brown (“New Night Dawning” and Frank Solivan II (“Across the Great Divide”) contribute what I would call some nice easygrass, but one can’t help but think a couple of shots of the hard stuff might be a better on an introduction to a music whose more easily palatable tastes are amply represented.