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SOUNDTRACK: THE DEL McCOURY BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #771 (August 1, 2018). 

I have really grown to like bluegrass a lot over the years.  And yet I still dislike country.  Never shall the twain meet.

Del McCoury is a bluegrass legend, singing, playing guitar and writing songs for the past 60 years, including his days with the “father of bluegrass,” Mr. Bill Monroe. The Del McCoury Band itself is 50 years strong, and these days includes Del’s sons Robbie on banjo and Ronnie on mandolin and vocals. All are astonishing players, here joined by the five-time award-winning fiddling of Jason Carter and this year’s International Bluegrass Music Association bass player of the year Alan Bartram.

The Band plays three songs (their session runs to nearly 20 minutes because Del talks a lot between songs!).  As the blurb notes:

These are story songs; Del is, of course, quite the storyteller, taking his time between them to reminisce. At 79 years old, he’s got a lot of them tell.

For their visit to the Tiny Desk, the group brought along some traveling songs. The first (of two) train tunes, “That Ol’ Train,” comes from their new album Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass, while their closing gospel tale “All Aboard” is a staple from 2001’s Del and the Boys. The other (a motorcycle song), “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” was written by another master of his craft, British folk icon Richard Thompson, and has been a part of Del’s repertoire for a while now. It shows not only the deep connection that bluegrass has to British folk music, but also Del McCoury’s willingness to keep his sound fresh all these years on.

“That Ol’ Train” is a great introduction (for me) to the group.  The song sounds timeless, even though it is new, with the age old sentiment: “I’d cover every mile of track / I’d bring my baby back / and put a happy ending to this song.”  There’s a wonderful set of solos.  Fiddle then banjo then fiddle and then mandolin solo.  The fiddle player is really amazing, even making the instrument sound like a train whistle.  And the harmonies are pretty sweet as well.

There is a moment, near the top of this Tiny Desk concert — when three voices gather ’round a single microphone to deliver the chorus of “That Ol’ Train” — that is so pure and beautiful

Del introduces the band.  He mentions that Jason Carter has won fiddle player of the year countless times.  But he didn’t win this year.  I don’t know what happened to him.

On the banjo is his son.  He has a new album called “The Five String Flamethrower” because when he plays at night with low stage lights he plays really fast and you can see sparks on the strings because uses metal picks.

He talks about his son on mandolin.  Back in 1983, they were going to tour Europe and he wanted to bring his son along while he was still in high school.   The principal called Del in to talk about the show wondering where they were going.  Del told him, British Isles, Germany, Holland and more.  The principal said he would allow Ronnie to go and he;s not going to have to make up any work he’ll learn a lot over there.

Del says his boys have their own band The Travelin’ McCourys who released an album on the same day at heir bluegrass Festival in Cumberland, Maryland.  Richard Thompson was there this year.  And they played the following song together (which Del and his band have been laying for years).

“1952 Vincent Black Lightning” is done on the banjo with a very different tone.  McCoury sings it wonderfully, but again, it’s doesn’t have the same tone, exactly.  But it still works.  The end of the song is banjo only, and it’s pretty amazing.

Before the final song, Del says, it’s just a little to early to sing.  We usually sing late night, at least 6 o clock. Then he says he has new strings on an old Martin guitar that’s why they’re out of tune.

Del says “I used to write songs myself but I got lazy because people in Nashville give them such good songs.”

“All Aboard” starts with furious banjo picking.  It’s intense and fast.  Del seems to be straining, but in a good way  as he sings the lyrics.  When the harmonies come in mid way through its really powerful.

I’m totally sold on Del McCoury and his family.

[READ: August 22, 2017] “An Evening Out”

This is a simple story with a lot going on in it.

The bulk of the story is about an American teacher in Bulgaria.  He has been there for seven years and has decided to call it quits.

So he is going out for the night with some former students, Z. and N.  There is much drinking.  Since he is leaving Sofia (the capital) they wanted to give him a real Bulgarian night out.

The teacher is very attracted to Z.–a forbidden thing in the country and a far more forbidden thing if he was his teacher (which he no longer is).  In fact Z. and N. both graduated some time ago.  N. had gone to America to be lawyer and had a miserable time.  Z, knew he would and even the teacher knew he would.  But that’s what N.’s mother wanted for him.  He tells them that after the bad year he has decided to student literature.  How did he convince his mother?

I just failed all my classes. (more…)

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