Greengrass, Volume 1

As promised yesterday, here’s my first installment of my Greengrass playlist series on Spotify.


“First Light/Dawn Rant” (Alasdair Fraser) – We begin with the opening track to Alasdair Fraser’s Dawn Dance. This is one of my favorite albums, and one of my seminal influences into celtic music. Unfortunately, there aren’t many works quite like this one. I remember the night I walked into Hear Music on Third St. in Santa Monica and gave this a listen. I snapped it up right away. This tune so properly captures my own interpretation of the Scottish style, properly modernized and “engrooved” for today’s ears. I transcribed this tune for two fiddles, guitar, bass, and djembe and played it with some friends at a friends’ wedding in Malibu. They have since divorced but I still cherish the memory of that day.

“Rye Whiskey” (Punch Brothers) – This Chris Thile’s new band (formerly of Nickel Creek, who are also included below). Punch Brothers will likely appear quite a bit in this series. Their newest album is more progressive, but the previous ones contain a ton of more traditional-sounding bluegrass material that will blend really well with the overall tone I’m trying to set here.

Some polkas by Gaelic Storm – I prefer their earlier releases. They were much less pretentious. After they got famous they started milking the Titanic thing for all it was worth. But their earlier material isn’t on Spotify, so I’ve included this tune for posterity.

Smoothie Song, Scotch and Chocolate (Nickel Creek) – I discovered Nickel Creek when I saw the music video for their first single on CMT while flipping through the channels years and years ago. I hate most of what today passes as country music, but this was definitely not that (how country can you be if you’re from San Diego?). I quickly went out and bought the CD and they became one of my favorite and most influential groups, and each music is equally infuential in their solo works. I saw them perform at Laxson about 10 years ago and I will never forget the experience. I remember my jaw was on the floor the whole time. I’m a pretty descent multi-instrumentalist, but each of these kids blows me away on each of their respective instruments. Chris Thile’s works are also featured in this series and next week will feature Sara Watkins’s solo album, which is one of my new favorites.

“Rolling in the Barrel/Morning Dew” (Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill) – I saw Hayes and Cahill live on tour with some other celtic acts at Pepperdine University in the late 20th century. Because I was so new to celtic music and still in the middle of my high classical training at the time, my first impression was that Hayes sounded like a junior higher who had only been playing for a couple years and never practiced. He has since become one of my favorite players, and I have since been quite humbled. There is so much nuance in his unique and authentic style that make his sound so distinguishable. Cahill is a master accompanist. His almost minimal style is yet so precise and deliberate. Not many guitarists can do so well at “second fiddle.” Don’t be surprised if these guys end up making a weekly appearance.

“The Fast Lane” (Béla Fleck, Sam Bush) – I got a recording of Live Art a long, long time ago. One of my favorite tunes is one in which Sam Bush plays mandolin. He’s also an excellent fiddler. They’re both veterans of the “Newgrass” scene, so they fit really well in this playlist series. I’ve also included a a track with Béla Fleck and Edgar Meyer (“Lowdown”). I saw them perform at Laxson last year in a trio along with percussionist Zakir Hussain. It was amazing (read my review).

“Afro-Jig” (Eileen Ivers) was one of the fiddlers featured on the Riverdance soundtrack. Again, because of its wild popularity, she faces similar condition to the Gaelic Storm/Titanic situation. However, she did have a long career prior to Riverdance. I remember she was the first fiddle player I ever heard use the Crybaby, and as soon as I did, I immediately went out and bought one of my own and started using it regularly. I’ll include her less-electric works here. She also appears later with a couple reels taken from another compilation, including the favorite, “Julia Delaney’s”.

“Pitkin Cty Turnaround” (Steve Martin) – Martin has been playing the banjo since he was a teenager. On this first record, his chops aren’t quite up to par with his band the Steep Canyon Rangers, but he’s close enough to keep it enjoyable. All they’re televised live performances, on Letterman, or at the Capitol on the Fourth of July, are simply amazing, and Martin has done a great deal in recent years to promote the banjo and bluegrass in general.

“Master Crowley’s” (De Danann) – Crowley’s is one of my favorite tunes. I was introduced to it ages ago from a recording by a bouzouki player from New Mexico, which I transcribed as a pet project for a music notation demo while I was trying to get side gigs as a copyist. I think I might have performed it once or twice on octave mandolin as well. (Note that, by design, Crowley’s also appears in the middle of the next track from Kevin Burke.)

“The Long Set” (Kevin Burke & Cal Scott) – Kevin Burke is one of the most influential British-American Irish fiddle players, one of the members of The Bothy Band, and helping to have established the local scene in Portland, Oregon (think Artichoke Music). His album “If the Cap Fits” is one of the must-have best celtic albums of all time. I was glad to have found some newer recordings recently, but some of his older ones will also appear in this series.

If you don’t have Spotify, you can download it from their website.


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