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Sunday, 23 September 2012 15:18

Tommy Brown and the County Line Grass 9/23/12

Tommy Brown and the County Line Grass 9/23/12 tbclg.com / Mike Morbeck
Written by Glen Herbert
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About this Media...

  • Date Recorded: September 23, 2012
  • Artist / Band: Tommy Brown and the County Line Grass
  • Hosting Show: Bluegrass Breakdown
  • Sound: Dan Kinney

Even a true fan of bluegrass can see that the genre is kind of easy -- well, really easy -- to make fun of.

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In its most traditional form, it's primarily a bunch well-fed white men playing jarring instruments and singing at the top of their ranges about mom, home, death, broken hearts and faith. For many of them, within the three-minutes of a song is the only time they would ever choose to bare their soul on any of these topics. But, when they're in the pocket, they let fly. No irony, no veiled literary references, just honest tales from the heart. Yes, at times it can be a bit hard to watch.

More than anyone, bluegrass musicians are intimately aware of how easy it is to mock the music, and, as if pre-emptively, they are often the ones mocking it. Banjo jokes are learned from the stage, most often told by banjo players. Mandolin Café, a site that clearly comes from the bluegrass world, created a random bluegrass name generator that is funny because of how all the names generated really do sound like real bands, and how cruelly the generator zings the real bands who have names like that.

Some bands and performers take a good stab at bringing aspects of bluegrass into more respected artistic circles -- say, by playing Bach on banjo (Bela Fleck, Jens Kruger), playing with symphonies (Cherryholmes) or by hanging out with Steve Martin (Steep Canyon Rangers) -- almost as if to rise above those easily mocked aspects of the music.

On the other side of the ledger are the bands, God love them, who stay as close to the traditions as they can. Tommy Brown and the County Line Grass is one of them, and the short set they recorded for KDHX covers all the bluegrass bases: There's a gospel barn-burner ("Answer the Call"), the classic shave-and-a-haircut ending ("Robin in a Nest") and a song about saying goodbye to little Darlin' ("Leaving this Town"), a woman who curiously comes up a lot in bluegrass songs.

Their accents are raw, the approach is honest and given that they come from Kentucky, they come with the proper pedigree. To be a professional bluegrass band from Kentucky means that they are good, as they come from a part of the world where people know bluegrass and won't abide poor outings. And the County Line Grass are indeed good. If you want see a real bluegrass band, they are that, right down (or up) to the hats.

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