October 25, 1996
>I think the Strength In Numbers album is wonderful and would like to know
>if there are other classics of this genre. Would these be solo albums by
>Sam, Jerry, Mark, etc.? (I'm already well acquainted with the 'Tones.)
>Also, any good historical or critical books out there? Thanks for any
As for books, try "Bluegrass: An Informal Guide", by Richard D. Smith (a capella, 241 pages (paper), $12.95, 1995). It has some coverage of the progressive scene.
Not sure of availability, but there is another book, "The Big Book Of Bluegrass," which is basically a bunch of reprints from the now-gone magazine, Frets. Chapters are included on Mark O, Sam, Bela, Trischka, Grisman, plus founders like Monroe. It is very out of date (it came out 10 or more years ago, and the articles in some cases date back to the late '70s), but there's plenty in it of interest.
Neil Rosenberg's "Bluegrass: A History" is the definitive book on bluegrass, and thus the majority of it covers traditional bluegrass. There is still a reasonable amount on the "progressives."
There is no book that covers New Acoustic exclusively, or exhaustively. More than in most forms of music, we're on our own.
As for recordings, a great place to start (if you don't have them already) is to get Bela's pre-Flecktones Rounder albums/CDs. Rounder has been incredible in it's boneheadedness in not transferring all of Bela's solo albums to CD by now (masterpieces like Natural Bridge, Double Time, and Crossing The Tracks are still LP-only, though excerpted on the two CD compilations, Daybreak & Places). You simply can't go wrong with Bela's Rounder output, though I'd get "Inroads" last.
Everything else I mention is available on CD.
Sam's 2 solo albums, "Late as Usual [Rounder]," "Glamour & Grits [Sugar Hill]," are excellent. I favor LaU over G&G, but both are wonderful.
If you can find a used copy of Edgar Meyer's "Unfolding" [MCA Master Series], grab it. It is among the high points of the New Acoustic canon, and the personnel is Strength In Numbers (before they ever used that monicker). His other albums are variable. "Dreams Of Flight" is good, "Love Of A Lifetime" is not, and "Works In Progress" bores me.
Jerry Douglas' albums are pretty consistently excellent. Rounder's 2-fer, "Everything's Going To Work Out Fine," combines all (minus the one and only weak track) from his two early Rounder albums. His MCA albums are also very good, the best being "Under The Wire" [now available on Sugar Hill]. Slide Rule [Sugar Hill] is excellent, and "Skip Hop & Wobble" [SH] is nice (I don't go nuts over it, but many others do).
Mark O'Connor's output has a few landmines to avoid. Skip the Fiddle Concerto. His new Sony disc with Meyer & [cellist] Yo Yo Ma (Appalachian Waltz) appears good (I've only heard 5 tracks from a pre-release promo). My favorite albums with him as leader are Markology (his Rounder guitar album), and his two great Warner Bros discs (his other WB discs range from OK to eh), New Nashville Cats, and Heroes.
There's a tiny little tip of the iceberg, focusing only on the members of Strength In Numbers.
It's a huge world your entering, and you'll never look back.