For years, successful bluegrass acts have expected to play their own well-traveled if relatively isolated circuit of festivals, arts centers, and regional events and fairs. For its first decade—well into the 1950s—the genre was simply a charged-up kind of country string-band music, likely to be seen and heard wherever country was. Early stars—Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Osborne Brothers and Mac Wiseman among them—were regularly seen on country package tours and had hits on the country charts. Now the Grascals and Diercks Bentley, two acts with CDs released this spring, are again venturing across the bluegrass-country divide.
One artifact of bluegrass's formative years is the charging yet plaintive "I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome," co-written by bluegrass originator Monroe and country icon Hank Williams. A potent new version of that 1949 number appears on "The Famous Lefty Flynn's," recently released by bluegrass stalwarts the Grascals. It features both regulation bluegrass instrumentation and harmonies, as well as honky-tonk steel guitar by the great Lloyd Green and a lead vocal by Hank Williams Jr. The musical integration is unmistakable. The Grascals have opened for Mr. Williams before tens of thousands of people in arena-size venues, tangible evidence that if bluegrass and the more tradition-minded side of mainstream country are not precisely going steady in 2010, they're clearly dating again.
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