Bluegrass, of course, isn't really traditional -- bebop, for example, predates the advent of bluegrass -- but rather is an experimental form built around a template supplied by Bill Monroe. Further, Monroe himself was always vocal about the need for all players to find their own voice, and Jens Kruger recalls that, when he told Monroe that his dream was to play bluegrass music, Monroe said "You can't. You're not from Kentucky, and you're not me, and I've already done it."
But there is something unique to bluegrass -- a tradition within the music, rather than an historical tradition -- as expressed so well recently by Alison Krauss in an interview conducted by "Bluegrass Unlimited" magazine. There she says, "I've always loved the message that bluegrass has, the purity of it. It's always, 'There's nothing more beautiful than the girl next door. There's nothing more wonderful than Mom and Dad. There's nothing more passionate than this man running away with the beautiful girl next door.'"
And, indeed, that's the tradition that Cedar Hill adheres to. They don't spend a lot of time with the standards these days -- their recent album, "I've Got a Thing About Doors," is entirely new material -- but they nevertheless remain very close to that purity, singing about the simple problems, trials and joys of everyday life.
"Pearl" is a song that the band has featured prominently in their live sets for some years now. It's a song about hard work, and that the silver lining, most days, is just having a companion to endure it with -- in this case, a dog. "Going to Paint the Town" is a song about the girl next door; "Cool Wind" is the hope of a break from a string of bad luck and loneliness.
The band also makes more than a few nods to the social music that Monroe incorporated into his own sound. "Dusty Miller" is a great instrumental standard from the days of house dances, while "Stomp Lee" references one of Monroe's standards, "Bluegrass Stomp."
From start to finish, this isn't a music about the rock-star nightlife, or going to rehab or glamour. Rather it's a music about the rest of us, about the workers and the truck drivers and long working days, delivered honestly. Those are the bluegrass traditions that Cedar Hill keeps alive and well.