Online since August 2002

The real bluegrass

Reviewed December 2006

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

HighTone Records: 2006

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

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.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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