Mountain Home records has it going on. This little label is setting it in fire North Carolina. The have two of my favorites bluegrass bands on their roster, Darin and Brooke Aldridge and Balsam Range.
It is clear to me the label is progressive and looking for the young bans who refuse to put out cookie cutter art. I spend an afternoon in the WNCW studio with Balsam Range. Like other fine modern bluegrass bands, they respect the tradition, but are innovative and keep pushing forward. When you listen to their music, you’ll hear plenty of bluegrass, but also country, blues and jazz.
When I was a kid our world was segregated, but I used to love to watch the African-American spirituals on Sunday morning television. The picture quality was poor; an old grainy black and white black and white, but it didn’t diminish the soul of the music one bit. These guys even have some of that kind of sound too. They didn’t wear those cool old robes though.
My wife and I joined them for a sound check. Dennis Jones, the bluegrass voice of the airways in the Carolinas (and the world via Internet stream) gave them their final instructions. Once on the air it didn’t take long for the boys to break out of the mold.
“Let’s see. It’s been a while since you guys have been here. When was your last visit to the studio?”
Marc Pruett: “1947.”
Everyone laughed and it was on. If you go see Balsam Range plan on a good time. They are gonna have fun whether you like it or not.
Dennis Jones is a masterful engineer. He sat at this huge console that has about 4,000 knobs and buttons, only 1,000 of which I knew what to do with. He could see the little boy in me dying to play and called me over.
“Put on these headphones, Doc.”
“Thanks. Man what a rich sound.”
“The kids call it ‘pfat’ nowadays, Doc.”
“Hey, what does this knob do?”
He smiled. “It controls the volume in your mix.”
I eyed the board. Fascinating to an old doc. “How ’bout this one?”
“I wouldn’t mess with the other ones, Doc. They can shock you if you don’t know which ones to twist.” He broke into a wide grin.
Man could he dial you in. Most bands I have played in work off the economy mix. We all hear the same thing in our ear monitor, and have to compromise a bit to make everyone happy. The WNCW Studio B set-up allowed each player to ask for more or less of each component until the mix suited them. I know for a fact this is a band that gets along, ’cause every one of ‘em asked for more banjo!
They mentioned on air Balsam Range will be at the Darin and Brooke Aldridge festival on April 10. There will be some very traditional bluegrass bands like J.D. Crowe, but also a fine blues band, the Harris Brothers. Darin and Brooke are the host band. They are bluegrass, but also lean towards modern acoustic country and gospel. This festival is a good introduction for folks not familiar with our music as it offers variety, the highest quality, and a very reasonable price. It is a festival that needs to be on every southern bucket list.
Balsam Range is not afraid to be different. If you have a Romanian folk dance number you like send it to ‘em. They might just give it a whirl. Check ‘em out at www.balsamrange.com. Visit WNCW 88.7 too at www.wncw.org. Dennis Jones has one of the best Saturday bluegrass and Sunday morning gospel shows in the world. You can pick ‘em up on Internet steam if you visit their site. One of these fine days good old Tommy Bibey might come across the air and play you a tune.
I don’t think I’ll twist too may knobs on that board, though. It is pretty electrified for bluegrass, and I don’t want to get shocked.