A celebration of our nation's founding is as good a time as any to dig into some old-time country music, either from this country or another. Whether a reissue from 1976 (the Bicentennial!) or a release from just last week, Mainers give you plenty of backyard fodder for the long weekend.
ROYALTY Roland White.
While it's not like Roland White has often returned to the state of his birth for triumphant performances, maybe he should. A son of the Pine Tree State with deep roots here (his father was one of 16 siblings), White is bluegrass royalty, having founded the Kentucky Colonels (with brother Clarence White, who was also in the Byrds), played with Bill Monroe as a Blue Grass Boy, and with Lester Flatt, and spent more than a decade with the Nashville Bluegrass Band. He's got Grammys and inductions and credits lined up as long as your arm.
In 1983 he was part of the Dreadful Snakes, with a lineup that included both Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas.
Until now, though, you couldn't get his seminal solo record, I Wasn't Born to Rock 'N Roll, in digital format. It was rereleased June 1 by Tompkins Square Records, and it is very much worth your investment if you love the iconic songs that marked early bluegrass as purveyed by the bands that invented it.
Though Roland was a guitar player in a number of bands, including backing Monroe, here he plays nothing but mandolin, and he's a powerful player, often riffing with wild abandon, while unrelenting on the beat. There is body to his vocals, too, as he eschews the high and lonesome wail for a sweet-voiced croon, sometimes growling, sometimes in the country tradition.
This is old-school: "The Storms Are on the Ocean," a waltz by AP Carter; Monroe's "Can't You Hear Me Calling"; and a "Marathon" medley (this is bluegrass, so it's just 7:38 long) that includes Leon Jackson's "Love, Oh Love," "Nine Pound Hammer," and "Sitting on Top of the World," among others.
I love the bass-playing on this album especially — Roger Bush is precise and percussive in a way Kris Day of the Jerks would fall in love with. Alan Munde is a monster on the banjo, too, his right-hand rolling smooth as a mountain creek.
Finally, take a special listen to "Powder Creek." The only original on the album, it was co-written with Clarence, who died in a car accident seven years before this album was recorded. All-instrumental, it has that haunted feel of all great bluegrass tunes, with bright rays of sunshine peeking through the dark clouds every few measures and a beautiful paired double-stop climb into the finish.
If you missed the Seldom Scene at the Strand up in Rockland last week, this record will get you the same kind of fix. And, yeah, he's a Mainer.
I WASN'T BORN TO ROCK 'N ROLL | Re-released by Roland White | on Tompkins Square Records | www.rolandwhite.com
GANG OF THREE
TRAD GUYS Pres Gang.
Who knows what it is that inspires young men like the three members of the Press Gang to riff on songs written as much as 100 years ago? It would make sense, though, that they aren't bad songs that continue to be played a century later.