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The real bluegrass

The Golden West
The Golden West
By Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands

HighTone Records: 2006

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This review first appeared in Turbula in December 2006.

So you got turned on to bluegrass music when the soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" became a huge hit a few years ago. Outside Alison Krauss, little of the bluegrass was by anyone still alive – or at least younger than, say, 75. And so you're a little bummed to have discovered this incredible music style that doesn't seem to have much of a future.

Disgruntled bluegrass fan, meet Laurie Lewis. Possessed of a gorgeous a set of pipes as Ms. Krauss, perhaps a better fiddle player, and writer of even better songs – songs that will be played as long as there are bluegrass bands to play them – Lewis is the balm to calm any heart excited by bluegrass and needing a fix.

Her new album is full of the kind of virtuosic playing and great songs we've come to expect from Lewis. Longtime musical partner Tom Rozum has a nice tenor voice, not so far off from Ricky Skaggs' – and he plays as mean a mandolin as Skaggs, too. Guitarist Scott Huffman provides yet a third sterling voice (a smooth baritone, in this case), while banjoist Craig Smith and standup bass player Todd Phillips round out the band's remarkable sound.

It is a sound that is completely steeped in tradition, yet one that upholds that tradition through aggressive, in your face playing. This is no passive museum piece, but living, breathing, vital bluegrass – beholden to and respectful of the past, but grounded in the here and now, and reaching for the future.