PBS // 2012 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 7th, 2012
A little bit of Bluegrass, a little bit of Underground
Like many musical styles, the origins of bluegrass are not entirely clear. As a form, it obviously grew out of the folk songs that came to America from Scotland and England, and has roots in Appalachian folk as well. As a genre, it came to prominence in the 1950s, with musicians like Bill Monroe providing the most popular examples of the form. Though it's far from the most popular form of music in America, more popular country acts have been turning to bluegrass for inspiration for years, while dedicated fans flock to festivals and concerts in the music's honor. There's such a large following that Bluegrass Underground emerged. The show takes place in a musical space called The Volcano Room is a natural cave under a mountain that features a fully formed stage. It seats about 500, and bluegrass acts regularly play there. Many of those shows are broadcast on the radio, and some are taped for the television broadcast. This DVD collects 90 minutes of performance footage, and will be a surefire pleaser for fans of newer bluegrass music.
The Best of Bluegrass Underground collects eighteen songs by eleven artists on a single disc:
* "The Harder I Fall" -- Cherryholmes
* "Live It" -- Cherryholmes
* "Even if it Breaks Your Heart" -- Will Hoge
* "Favorite Waste of Time" -- Will Hoge
* "Sit Down Servant" -- Mike Farris & The McCrary Sisters
* "Troubles of the World" -- Mike Farris & The McCrary Sisters
* "River" -- Monte Montgomery
* "Deadwood" -- Mountain Heart
* "That Just Happened" -- Mountain Heart
* "Late Night Ramble" -- 18 South
* "Run On" -- 18 South
* "River Take Me" -- Darrell Scott
* "Midnight at the Movies" -- Justin Townes Earle
* "Windy City Rails" -- The Farewell Drifters
* "Tomorrow Morning" -- John Cowan Band
* "John Cowan Band" -- John Cowan Band
* "Uncle Pen" -- Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
* "Salty Dog" -- Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Bluegrass Underground is a great idea for a show. Getting traditional musicians into an amazing space and recording their performances is a surefire recipe for success. However, this release has a few problems that keep it from being perfect:
* The whole "best of" concept is kind of annoying. I've never heard of half the bands here. While that's not a bad thing, I'd like to hear more from the bands I do know. I'd gladly pay the retail price for this DVD if instead it were all of Justin Townes Earle's performance for the show. I'm sure that fans of the other musicians would feel the same. Instead, we get a sampling of a number of acts. This isn't a bad thing in itself, but many bluegrass fans tend to be completists, and would probably be more willing to buy two or three DVDs of complete performances than a single disc that has just a song or two by their favorite artist.
* This set skews a bit young. By now, bluegrass is a heavily traditional form of music, with many purists arguing over song choice and instrumentation. So, while some of the included music is very traditional, some of it isn't. I love Justin Townes Earle, but his song "Midnight at the Movies" probably wouldn't qualify as bluegrass per se with most genre fans.
Neither of these are huge obstacles or anything, and in many peoples' eyes they'd be positives instead of negatives. However, for the bluegrass crowd especially, these might be black marks on the disc's record.
On the positive side, this DVD is quite solid. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is clean and bright, and the colored lights of the Volcano Room come across as especially well saturated. The 5.1 surround audio is similarly impressive. Bass response is solid, and the mix does a nice job of creating atmosphere. There are no extras, but the disc does include the ability to select individual songs, which is a nice touch, and subtitles are available as well.
I don't want to sound too down on The Best of Bluegrass Underground. For what it is (a sampler) and what it does (gives us performances from a number of talented musicians), it's a great disc. As a teaser or promo for the show, this DVD makes an excellent case for watching Bluegrass Underground. It will only whet fans appetites for full releases by their favorite acts from the show.
Not Guilty. Keep on pickin'!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site