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Foghorn Stringband | Rattlesnake Tidal Wave (Siren Music Company)
Since 'O Brother Where Art Thou' triggered a huge resurgence of interest in bluegrass, the genre has been increasingly embraced as much by the alternative country community as by mainstream audiences who bought the soundtrack in millions (er, really? - Ed). Despite its old-time tag, the genre really isn't much older than rock'n'roll, having first been coined in the mid '40s, taking its name from that of pioneering mandolinist Bill Monroe's band, The Blue Grass Boys. Their name was in turn inspired by their home state of Kentucky â?? commonly known as the Bluegrass state.
What inspired bluegrass music in the first place, however, dates back much further than that - to recordings made in the '20s and '30s, most famously by artists like Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family but also by many other acts, the majority of whom have sadly long fallen into obscurity. Much of the inspiration, and indeed much of the material recorded during this time, could probably be traced back yet further - probably to the turn of the century. Whilst the instrumentation was predominantly much the same as that which would later come to be utilised by bluegrass musicians (i.e. fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass and banjo or permutations thereof), old-time string band music wasn't as focussed on individual technical virtuosity and soloing and it was by its very essence a perpetuation of long-standing traditional styles. Hell, what I'm really trying to say is that these bands could really play!
It's to pioneers like these that the Portland, Oregon based Foghorn Stringband have turned in selecting the material for their debut album. The twenty tracks on 'Rattlesnake Tidal Wave' are all traditional numbers long in the public domain. Mostly instrumental, though peppered with a few vocal tracks and with titles like Drunkard's Dream, Courting Days Waltz and Huckleberry Blues amongst them, for sheer entertainment - and frankly there should always be a place for such things - the album couldn't come more strongly recommended. Played fabulously, entirely acoustic and recorded in authentic style - quickly and live with just one microphone during a single weekend last September, after a couple of spins of this you'll think the future of rock is square dancing. Believe me!
CWAS #12 - Summer 2003