Wednesday, March 23, 2011
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: A.G. OLMSTEAD - II
Now here's a great description of my home province of New Brunswick: "The hardest placeon earth to leave". I wish I'd said that. It was actually a musician who said but he probably stole it, knowing musicians. That's okay, it's a good one. It's from the mouth of A.G. Olmstead, a guy who knows a lot about leaving New Brunswick, as he's had to do it several times in his life and career, but he keeps coming back to his St. Stephen home. He first left in high school for a New England boarding school, and spent a lot of his early career in music in the States, in places such as Austin and Nashville. A.G. is one of the country's finest old-time and bluegrass musicians, but he's better-known and even better-appreciated down in the Nashville bluegrass scene. That's okay, he goes there when he needs to, and he still calls his childhood home the right place for him.
I first discovered A.G. back in 2006 when he popped out his first album of bluegrass, and I thought, wow, this sounds like the real thing. Of course, that's because it WAS the real thing. A.G. is the real thing. He's a hugely talented multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, and has bowled them over in Nashville. He makes his music with some of the genre's best players and producers. I hear a lot of bluegrass discs over the course of a year, and I get to recognize the names of the preferred players, so to me, Olmstead's credits read like an all-star team roster. His new disc, called A.G. Olmstead II, has just arrived, and it's a killer, packed with ace playing and wonderful writing.
If it's true you can judge the measure of a man by the company he keeps, A.G. has pedigree. The Grascals are one of the very top bluegrass groups going, and singer Terry Eldredge is here just to lend harmonies to A.G.'s lead. Rob Ickes is generally considered the best dobro player in the genre, he is almost always voted player of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Stuart Duncan has been called America's favourite fiddle player, thanks to his years of work as the top session man in Nashville, gracing hits by Patti Loveless, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and that Alison Krauss/Robert Plant hit album. He's been the IBMA fiddler of the year 8 times. Alan O'Bryant is Stuart Duncan's partner in the Nashville Bluegrass Band, plays banjo on this disc, and is the producer. He's the main guy for A..G. Olmstead, the respected Nashville man who believes in him, and his songwriting, and rallies this great group of performers around him.
Okay, I'm not going to belabour the point anymore, the playing on this disc is the absolute epitome of bluegrass ensemble music. So, the only question mark is A.G. himself. Can his singing, writing and playing match up? You betcha. I love his voice, it is real old-school, he sounds like he's straight out of Bill Monroe's band, and sounds that old too! He has a fun, granddaddy way about him, but in fact he's 37 this year. As for songwriting, again it is the fun old-time, 40's and 50's era stuff, not Newgrass, or slicker ballad material, no jazz or pop influences (not that there's anything wrong with that of course). It's also not hokey or cornpone. Even though A.G. wasn't born in Kentucky, he has respect and he knows that old time music was hugely important in these parts too. We forget it sometimes, thanks to all the attention the U.S. gets, but New Brunswick's music scene was just as active as any southern state back in the 40's and 50's. Think Don Messer and Hank Snow, and so many others.
Anyway, A.G. is here, lives here, and bless him, he has some shows coming up where he's showing off some of his slick--playing pals. They are coming from Nashville to the Maritimes to launch the new disc, as A.G. Olmstead and the Nashville String Band, with Gammy-award winning banjo player Alan O'Bryant, mandolin master Chris Henry and more.
Mar 26: Bearly's House of Blues & Ribs, Halifax
Mar 27: Plan B Lounge, Moncton
Mar 29: Arena Complex Theatre, St. Andrews, N.B.
Mar 30: Eastport Arts Center, Eastport, Maine