Perhaps the surest sign that bluegrass has grown to a mature musical
form is the fact that it has now segmented itself into a number of
subsets. Each has its own dedicated following, with artists catering to
the style, labels that record and promote the music, agencies that
specialize in promoting it, and festivals committed to preserving it.
There is the traditional sound, what used to just be called
bluegrass, the more progressive style where performers use the common
instruments associated with Bill Monroe to play music that bears little
resemblance to his Blue Grass Boys, and looser configurations that merge
folk, swing, and grassy approaches to original music. There are the jam
grass bands that take after The Grateful Dead, and the retro grass
outfits that take us back to the 1950s. There are even bands intent on
recreating the music of the big ’80s rock groups, with acoustic
That all this is viewed generically as “bluegrass” serves our music
well in the main, though it can lead to confusion among some consumers.
And like all factions, each surely feels that their is the “true
bluegrass,” the one that will win out in the end.
Perhaps the largest component these days is what might be called
contemporary bluegrass, given to tightly-crafted songs, more
sophisticated arrangements, and high-level instrumentalists, delivered
by skilled vocalists. It retains most of the elements that defined the
earliest examples of the music, and has begun to absorb what a few years
ago was known as acoustic country. And the further that pop country
moves away from its traditions, the bigger the door for bluegrass to
incorporate that sound.
This is where an artist like Billie Reneé Johnson shines, in this contemporary bluegrass realm, and where she is likely to find a great many fans thanks to her new Songs From The Heart album from Truegrass Entertainment.
It shows her to be a fine bluegrass singer, with a very attractive
voice, and the power and range to sing this music with the aggressive
edge that has become its hallmark.
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