August 29, 2006

Bluegrass from a bottle: Louisville’s Troublesome Creek refreshes bluegrass with new album

Troublesome CreekWith today’s radio programming as it is, bluegrass is not a type of music one hears regularly. In fact, I would imagine a majority of people in their nascent 20s wouldn’t even recognize bluegrass were it not for the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack six years ago, an album that stayed atop the charts for two years and won the Grammy Award for Album of The Year. The Derby City’s own Troublesome Creek plans to keep bluegrass alive, however, with the release of their new album From A Bottle and the shindig to announce it this weekend at the Hideaway Saloon.Vocalist/mandolin player John Dwyer, rhythm guitarist/vocalist Emily Wrinkles and banjo player/vocalist Dale Weiter make From A Bottle a visceral, surreal ride on a personal L&N, complete with references to love, loss and whiskey. Don’t think the album is as stereotypical as I make it sound, however.“Growing Up Blind” is the chilling tale of the death of Dwyer’s father when the son was 17. And “East End Blues” is a dark, semiautobiographical song written by Wrinkles. “I added a lot of stuff that didn’t happen to make it more of an interesting story,” Wrinkles said. “For instance, I never drove down the road with a gun in my hand and I definitely never blew away anyone with it! I just thought it was a funny touch to the story. So basically some of that song is true, and some is just a storyteller’s whim.”Hearing their expansive talent, you might be surprised to know the principal three members of Troublesome Creek have been playing bluegrass just more than five years. Like so many before him, Dwyer credits Bill Monroe as the artist who got him into bluegrass, and he says he then got Weiter listening to bluegrass through Flatt and Scruggs’ Live at Carnegie Hall album. “Troublesome Creek got Troublesome Creek and began playing in the spring of 2001,” Dwyer said. “I guess watching him learning bluegrass music was all the inspiration I needed … I got a mandolin that fall. Dale and I were playing and learning together for the next year and a half or so, occasionally with other friends.“We met Emily through, who is now my wife … when Kelly had mentioned us playing music to Emily at their work, she expressed interest in getting together with us as she had been playing guitar for many years, mostly for fun. Emily was a big fan of bluegrass but new to playing it. She started playing with us regularly, and it wasn’t long before she was a full-fledged bluegrass picker like the rest of us.”With additional members coming and going, Dwyer said From A Bottle has been a long time coming. “We started recording in March, I believe, of 2005 and didn’t finish that process alone until about a year later,” he told me. “We recorded it mostly in my basement, and it’s hard to explain to a 5-year-old that she needs to not make any noise.”I dig on Old Crow Medicine Show. I know that’s probably not as cool to say now as maybe two or three years ago, because now they’re all big and played out and all that, but I don’t care. Legit scrapers and pickers or just another new-breed fashion statement about bluegrass and its attendant modern ironies, these five guys are more to nu grass than just cud, and public radio has been gifted an organic resurgence of supreme surprise, despite the fact that stations play that “Wagon Wheel” song 500 times a day. We’re all winners. Watching OCMS live for the first time two years ago at Bonnaroo, I had the distinct impression they’d fallen out of some Gap commercial where they were hired to play the “gritty” country role to hawk some plain white T-shirts you could buy at a third of the price in bulk. But screw what they look like, eh? They sound damn good, a chorus of twanged, mannish voices over hyper-picked acoustic instruments loved like good bed partners. The new album, Big Iron World, which came out yesterday, is another advancement, both in scope of songwriting and overall pace. They do a radical version of Woody Guthrie’s radical labor song “Union Maid.” “James River Blues” and “God’s Got It” are slow-drive weights to balance the motormouthed super-strumming most often found in good bluegrass, most often found on OCMS records and at OCMS shows. Speaking of, they’re playing for free tonight at Waterfront Wednesday, with Scott Miller & the Commonwealth and our own Betweeners. Dig it. —Stephen George Contact the writers at leobeat@leoweekly.com