“They nearly always come back,” said Béla Fleck. “All the people that leave bluegrass. I had a strong feeling that I’d be coming back as well.”
My Bluegrass Heart, out September 10, 2021 on Renew Records, is that return the 15-time Grammy winner is talking about – the third chapter in a decades-spanning trilogy which, by his counting, started with 1988’s Drive and continued with The Bluegrass Sessions, released eleven years later. Over the long and lauded course of his unique creative run, Fleck – the world’s premier banjo virtuoso and a celebrated musical adventurer – has both dug deep into his instrument’s complex global history and unlocked the breadth of its possibilities. My Bluegrass Heart is a homecoming in sound, to be sure.
There was only one prize-winning teenager carrying stones big enough to say thanks, but no thanks to Roy Acuff. Only one son of Kentucky finding a light of inspiration from Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys and catching a fire from Bob Marley and The Wailers. Only one progressive hippie allying with like-minded conspirators, rolling out the New Grass revolution, and then leaving the genre's torch-bearing band behind as it reached its commercial peak.
There is only one consensus pick of peers and predecessors, of the traditionalists, the rebels, and the next gen devotees. Music's ultimate inside outsider. Or is it outside insider?
There is only one Sam Bush.
Jerry Douglas was a teenager playing in a band in Lexington, Kentucky, the first time he heard Weather Report and Chick Corea — on the same day. More than 40 years later, he remembers the moment vividly.
“It blew my head off,” he says. “I loved it. And I thought, ‘Well, there’s where I could go with all this stuff runnin’ around in my head.’”
“All this stuff” is the remarkable music Douglas has made on Dobro and lap steel in a career that’s earned him world renown as the top purveyor of his craft. On his latest musical foray, What If, Douglas decisively merges those jazz inclinations with the bluegrass, country, blues, swing, rock, and soul he’s spent his life absorbing and performing, forging a sound that flies beyond the boundaries of anything he — or anyone else — has done before.
Though Douglas has recorded several of these songs previously, he turns them inside out here in bold new arrangements filled with unexpected elements. For example, in 1992 he covered “Hey Joe,” the Billy Roberts folk tune that became one of Jimi Hendrix’s most beloved blues-rockers, as an uptempo bluegrass song. Here, it’s recontextualized again with drums and fiddle — and horns instead of mandolin. And “Freemantle,” which Douglas and banjoist Béla Fleck had co-written and recorded decades ago as a duet, is now so deeply layered, it almost begs to be heard through headphones.
Like fellow bluegrass-rooted peers Fleck and David Grisman, Douglas has always balanced respect for tradition with a desire to escape constricting expectations. But there were places even he was afraid to go — until now.