When it comes to the music we call bluegrass today, no one has been as influential in creating that open-ended, freewheeling style of acoustic music than Sam Bush. Starting with his groundbreaking work with the Bluegrass Alliance, the chart-topping records he made with the seminal New Grass Revival, and his instrumental contributions to everything from Strength in Numbers to breakthrough CDs by Bela Fleck, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, David Grisman and countless more, Sammy’s exuberance, sheer musical virtuosity, and passion for entertaining audiences has made him a singular figure in the world of bluegrass today.
On his seventh release on Sugar Hill, Bush incorporates bluegrass, reggae, jazz, swing, rock, and other influences into his personal style. The opening track, “Play By Your Own Rules,” sounds like an NGR classic with its message of being true to oneself. One of the key reasons for Bush’s long-lasting popularity is his recurrent message of hope and joy in life, reflected here on tunes like “Transcendental Meditation Blues.” A similarly lighthearted song based on some country blues, “Carcinoma Blues,” is a personal reflection on Sam’s well-documented bout of cancer, a case he thankfully whipped. “Cancer,” as he sings here, you ain’t ruling me.
Sam’s humor serves him well on “Handmics Killed Country Music,” a tune he sings here with longtime partner Emmylou Harris. Together, they make the case that when country music stars put down their guitars, it was the end of traditional country music. Handmics killed country music, they wail in harmony, and that’s what’s killing me.
Lest his mandolin fans feel left out, he also rips through a killer original, “Greenbrier,” with great solos from banjo wiz Scott Vestal and guitarist Stephen Mougin. There may be newer hot mandolinists on the scene, but Sam Bush still rules the roost. At this point in his career, he’s seen it all, played it all and done it all. An elder statesmen of modern bluegrass (a label he’ll no doubt find amusing), he continues to reach out and try new things. Storyman is a great testament to his boundless energy, vast creative energy, and restless musical imagination. Anyone who’s enjoyed and appreciated Sammy’s music over the past decades will feel right at home hearing these stories. (Sugar Hill, P.O. Box 120897, Nashville, TN 37212, www.sugarhillrecords.com.)DJM