Bluegrass recordings that are just TOO good? (performances)

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honkyjonk
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Bluegrass recordings that are just TOO good? (performances)

Post by honkyjonk » Sun Sep 03, 2006 6:29 pm

I was just listening to this KPIG bluegrass show of pretty traditional stuff and there were a couple numbers by I can't remember who, but the tempo was like 5 million BPM, and it seems like some of the precision was just un-human.

I've listened to a lot of bluegrass and this seems a little too good to me. I mean, I know the world of bluegrass is full of some of the most legitimate and insanely talented musicians, but I'm beginning to wonder if some of them aren't being tempted by the ugly devils of pitch correction and note shifting in Protools.

Anybody record bluegrass? Anybody privy to what's going down? Are some of these guys for real? I wish I could remember who it was I heard, but i just wanted to ask if anybody has any experience or can offer some generizations about the world of bluegrass in regards to protools.

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Post by Randy » Sun Sep 03, 2006 6:40 pm

I have recorded some. Bluegrass folks are for real. There usually aren't overdubs, and the players all play in close proximity to each other. They practice up to their eyeballs and can play fast and loose.

Here's one band from Chicago, they tear it up. All are really nice guys too-
http://www.tangleweed.org/

I saw Gillian Welch and David Rawlings play here in Chicago at a "Traffic Series" event at the Steppenwolf theater. T-Bone Burnett brought out some of his cronies and they all played some great music. It was set up as sort of a living room jam, pretty informal. When T-Bone brought out Gillian and David, everyone else stood quiet while they played, until Marc Ribot tried to play into a song. They were so tight, there was nothing he could do to fit in. He stopped and had this shit-eating grin on his face. Once the song was over T-Bone said "You're going to have to tune up to play with those folks, Ribot!" Brought down the house.
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Post by mwingerski » Sun Sep 03, 2006 6:52 pm

I've mixed a whole bunch of live bluegrass sets from the bluegrass festival in san francisco. Those guys are for real. Ricky Skaggs, Earl Scruggs... all the guys that play with them... there's no ProTools going on up on stage... they can really play like that. Scary.

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Post by rolandk » Sun Sep 03, 2006 7:33 pm

This is more of a compliment than anything else, but when I see Alison Krauss and Union Station live on CMT they are so effing perfect in every way it completely freaks me out.
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Post by ;ivlunsdystf » Sun Sep 03, 2006 8:43 pm

Yeah, agreed; it's just pure raw skill, even at the JV levels of bands that never leave a given city and just play standards. The stuff is just routinely played with MIDI-esque surgical precision.

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Post by honkyjonk » Sun Sep 03, 2006 8:43 pm

Yeah, okay,

I love Welch and Rawlings. That's not really who I'm referring to. I have listened to all four of their records about a million times and I've seen them twice, and though they are tight, I mean really really tight, they're not perfect to the degree of this band I heard. I mean, it was gross perfect, very fast, grossly inhumanly perfect. And generally when you have, say, a banjo player that nails the most insanely ripping solo, the guitar player just by sheer odds might not nail his solo in the same greater than holiness perfection, and the chances of the mandolin player doing the same in the same song, well, I don't know.

I guess it's just a bunch of goddamn speculation because I didn't catch the name of the band I'd heard.

I mean, I know, by and large, most blue-grass folks are the real deal, but I wonder if there is pressure to make it reaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyy perfect if you havn't practiced the song enough and it's time for the session, and you're in Nashville for a week. I don't know, I'm just blabbing. Blah Blah.

The reason I'm blabbing is because I really at the depth of my soul hope this band was for real because it sounded pretty incredible, and it seems like old-school blue-grass is one of those genres that just by it's nature and the ornery folks who play it might resist protoolsization as long as possible.

But then again, there's some pretty incredible classical musicians that will agree to 45 edits/punchins/pitch corrections a minute.

It could have been Sam Bush's band actually. I remember the DJ mentioning him, but I don't remember Sam Bush being that perfect. . . . . . .

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Post by ;ivlunsdystf » Sun Sep 03, 2006 8:50 pm

I once watched David Rawlings do a solo at rather fast tempo which had three parts: a part without slide, a part with slide, and another part without the slide. He grabbed the slide out of his chest pocket at the exact time he needed it, quickly stuck it on his finger, used it for a few bars, then put it back in his pocket; all without any interruption to the solo.

I think the 'nailing it in one take' mentality is alive and well throughout the pros of bluegrass. I think Jerry Douglas takes it as a point of great professional pride to nail things on the first take. But what do I know. I don't know why I think this. You might well be right about what goes on behind the scenes. EVH must have done his share of punches too, right? (I honestly don't know whether that is the case)

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Post by AGCurry » Tue Sep 05, 2006 6:30 am

I've enjoyed Bluegrass (listening and playing) since 1975, when I attended Bill Monroe's festival in Beanblossom, Indiana.

I respectfully disagree with most of the opinions given here. The best Bluegrass is NOT perfect and precise. Of course, that statement invites the question, "What does 'best' mean?"

For me, I refer to the roots: Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, the Stanley Brothers, Earl Scruggs, The Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Jimmy Martin, ...

Listening to their music, you notice that it is NOT perfect or absolutely precise. Bill Monroe was a great player but he was not particularly precise in his playing. Lester Flatt, a great player AND a great singer, but he didn't hit his notes right on pitch. The Stanleys were homespun and raw in their singing and playing.

But DAMN it'll send chills up and down my spine, and I can close my eyes and imagine a different time and place. Surgically-precise playing does not do that for me.

I would draw an analogy with the Blues. Robert Johnson and many others were not superb technicians and didn't have the greatest gear, but their music had something that really fine players like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan's don't. Just my $.02.

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Post by PublicMelody » Tue Sep 05, 2006 6:58 am

I've been playing bluegrass banjo for 8 years. I attend a lot of jams and festivals. The players are for real -- yup, they really do play that well at hypersonic speeds. However, when you play publicly 3/4 nights a week you get chops fast!

As to the early bluegrass. Yes, I completely agree. Bill Monroe was a sloppy player, and that helped give his music a rough edge that it needed -- lots of character. The sterilization of bluegrass came forth when Doyle Lawson began his "barbershoppy" style harmonies and ultra-clean licks. Most bands fall somewhere in-between these days. Del McCoury somehow has edge, roughness AND clean licks. But, he's a bad MoFo.

Don't get me wrong -- there is a place for Doyle Lawson -- his work on the Bluegrass Album Band albums was good.

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Post by ;ivlunsdystf » Tue Sep 05, 2006 9:42 am

Yeah, I don't usually fall for the exact precision stuff either - I'd rather hear a bit of slop mixed in

except it was not a good sort of slop when Bill Monroe lost the ability to sing in tune later in his life, but kept singing anyway...

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Post by standup » Tue Sep 05, 2006 10:07 am

I hang around bluegrass guys sometimes, and I think it's akin to metal in a few regards -- competitive, emphasis on speed and precision. At its worst. Bluegrass attracts some guys who are incredibily focused, detail-oriented, anal-retentive and can play really fast and accurately. In my hack-player opinion, you can lose touch with the music that way.

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Post by hammertime » Tue Sep 05, 2006 10:12 am

Yeah, that's what I noticed. I went to a bluegrass/Scottish fiddle campout deal, and took my National, and I found these guys weren't really into having alot of fun with music, or into playing other styles. They were pretty into the technical side of playing, even though their shit basically all sounded the same. I must say I had a really reduced opinion of that music after that weekend.
standup wrote:I hang around bluegrass guys sometimes, and I think it's akin to metal in a few regards -- competitive, emphasis on speed and precision. At its worst. Bluegrass attracts some guys who are incredibily focused, detail-oriented, anal-retentive and can play really fast and accurately. In my hack-player opinion, you can lose touch with the music that way.

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Post by chovie d » Tue Sep 05, 2006 10:46 am

I took a few mandolin lessons. My teacher wanted me to just practice picking up and down one note for hours. Its all about that precision and up down picking , the train that drives bluegrass, and there aint alot of space in there to insert variations in tempo, string bends, or other expressive elements, so this may contribute to that robotic ultra precise feel you get sometimes. He'd give me a song to learn and I'd come back the next week and play it for him with feeling (sorry culdnt help myself), and he'd be like "That was awesome, but now I want you to play it "straight" because you gotta learn that first". They dont want you to get emotional or "funky" or to rock or any of that stuff it seems, they want rigid clocklike porecision. Those "jams" never sounded fun to me. A bunch of bluegrass nazis circle jerking to see who can rip thru Red Haired Boy the fastest was how i pictured em..never been tho so maybe they are great fun?
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Post by Randy » Tue Sep 05, 2006 11:15 am

You have those types in every genre. The things they get all uptight about shift from scene to scene, but it all boils down to people who lose sight of what is important in the music. It's like they don't have that un-quantifiable essence that makes something great, the thing that cannot be taught, so they create a whole rigid set of rules to somehow try and prove they are good. Turning art into sport.
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Post by PublicMelody » Tue Sep 05, 2006 11:41 am

Sorry, but I'm going to have to challenge you on just about all of this:
chovie d wrote:I took a few mandolin lessons. My teacher wanted me to just practice picking up and down one note for hours.
Yes, over and over, and over again. Sounds like your teacher was getting you to learn the basics of bluegrass mandolin properly, so that you didn't have to go back and relearn them later -- much harder to do. Do you think Sam Bush started out learning the basics? He's certainly way-out-there in the mandolin stratosphere. How about Bela Fleck? Yup, he had a traditional upbringing as well, and he's hanging-out on Mars. In fact, most of the players doing progressive/jamgrass learned the traditional approach BEFORE going on a bender.
chovie d wrote:Its all about that precision and up down picking , the train that drives bluegrass, and there aint alot of space in there to insert variations in tempo, string bends, or other expressive elements, so this may contribute to that robotic ultra precise feel you get sometimes.
Precision up down picking is not the train that drives bluegrass, nor is it what the mandolin contributes to that train. For most traditional, cut-time bluegrass songs (this excludes waltz, and progressive bluegrass styles) the train is the "boom-chick" feel which is propelled by the bass, rhythm guitar, and mandolin "chopping" (i.e., vamping) on the upbeat. If the mandolin never took a break, it would still be contributing to the 'train' by nailing that off-beat.
chovie d wrote:there aint alot of space in there to insert variations in tempo, string bends, or other expressive elements
On slower songs there's more than enough space for expressive elements -- just like any other kind of music. It gets tougher on faster songs -- just like any other kind of music. I bend notes on the banjo all the time, slow or fast. I also add triplets and other 'expressive elements' as do many players.
chovie d wrote:He'd give me a song to learn and I'd come back the next week and play it for him with feeling (sorry culdnt help myself), and he'd be like "That was awesome, but now I want you to play it "straight" because you gotta learn that first".
You teacher was correct (sorry culdn't help myself)!
chovie d wrote:They dont want you to get emotional or "funky" or to rock or any of that stuff it seems, they want rigid clocklike porecision.
"They"?? Who, the one teacher you mention? Perhaps you're referring to people at traditional bluegrass jams? If so, then, well, yeah, the traditional players play it the traditional way. Good point! But wait, you mention that you have never been to a bluegrass jam. So, on what experience are you basing this?
chovie d wrote:Those "jams" never sounded fun to me. A bunch of bluegrass nazis circle jerking to see who can rip thru Red Haired Boy the fastest was how i pictured em..never been tho so maybe they are great fun?
Wow, you "pictured" it in just about the most negative way I can imagine.
Why is that?

Bluegrass jams are like any other jam -- hit or miss.
Bluegrass technique is hard as phuque, and requires loads of disciplined practice. There are many genres, traditional, newgrass, jamgrass, progressive, so be carefull when speaking about it.

I get the feeling that you had a bad experience or two somewhere along the way.

- Jim
Last edited by PublicMelody on Tue Sep 05, 2006 11:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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