News Column

Bush, Douglas: Men of fine new grass mettle [Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA)]

November 8, 2013


After New Grass Revival - a band whose name spawned a musical subgenre - broke up in 1989, Sam Bush became newgrass music's standard bearer.

Banjo man Bela Fleck continued musical adventures with classical, jazz, African and other styles. Bassist/singer John Cowan detoured into soul, hard rock and sideman work while also playing bluegrass and newgrass. And guitarist Pat Flynn kept working in studios and making records.

But Bush, a mandolinist, fiddler and singer, has been the most visible and successful at plying a style that injects jazz, soul, R&B, reggae and rock into bluegrass.

Jerry Douglas came to the newgrass game a little later, but his Dobro work has had as big an impact on the scene. Along with countless studio sessions and sideman gigs in multiple styles, Douglas for nearly 15 years has been a featured member of Alison Krauss and Union Station, one of the most popular acts in the country, let alone among those steeped in the newgrass world.

On Thursday night, Bush and Jerry Douglas joined forces for a multi-faceted performance in front of more than 900 people in a sold-out show at Jefferson Center's Shaftman Hall in Roanoke.

The pair, friends and neighbors in Nashville, Tenn., showed that their energy is still high, their chops still intact and their musicality still deep.

Douglas started the show, with a set of more than 50 minutes of resonator guitar fire. But Douglas was not a note-hog, giving plenty of solo room to fiddler Luke Bulla, who excited the crowd nearly as much as Douglas did. And when they harmonized, the sliding of steel bar and bow against strings was equally tight in rhythm and intonation.

Drummer Doug Belote - who was a member of the Tedeschi Trucks Band when it played the Down by the River Festival in 2010 - and bassist Viktor Krauss (Alison Krauss' brother) locked in deeply, nailing the lyrical jazz of Weather Report's "A Remark You Made," the newgrass chug of the Douglas original, "Who's Your Uncle" and the swampy groove of Leadbelly's "On A Monday."

Douglas played some nasty blues licks on the latter and showed a solid baritone singing voice.

Later, he would pull out an electric lap steel hybrid and blast licks with fire reminiscent of Jeff Beck, Robert Randolph and Derek Trucks. The set brought the audience to its feet.

The Sam Bush Band was equally crowd-pleasing, leading off with the New Grass Revival favorite "One More Love Song" in a set that included more recent Bush numbers "Circles Around Me" and "The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle." Throughout, Scott Vestal's banjo work proved as fiery as Bush on the mandolin.

Bush twice name-checked the 1965 Roanoke Bluegrass Festival that he took part in during his early teens.

This reporter had to leave the venue to make deadline just as Bush and Douglas were opening a third set with a wicked call-and- response session that led into a cover of Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man."

It promised to be jam session with members of both bands that would stretch deep into the night.

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