Even in an age in which we’ve had some twenty to forty years of crossover covers, it can come as a bit of a surprise to hear some of these songs attempted by a bluegrass/old-time outfit. I’m not including “Midnight Rider” or “When Will I Be Loved,” both included here, in that statement. Both of those seem to fit the ethos and style of bluegrass very well. What I’m talking about are such tunes as “Should I Stay” from The Clash, “Billie Jean” from Michael Jackson, “People Are Strange” from The Doors, “Poker Face” from Lady Gaga, and “Stayin’ Alive” from The Bee Gees. To record them takes a willingness to absorb odd responses or gibes about not taking the music seriously. The Same Old Newgrass Band seems willing to take those gibes, and they sound serious about it, even when they give the tune “Should I Stay” a semi-comic hokum feel. In between are short instrumental originals, sort of palate-cleansing interludes, each of them well-done.
Several thoughts come to mind about what you’ll find here. First, this is not that far from what bands in the early days of country music did. They played old pop songs in a country manner. Second, the results are similar to how ’60s rock bands saw country music. They hammed it up a bit, but a genuine respect showed through. You can also say that what this group does is make palatable songs you might not enjoy in their original form. I’m not a fan of “Billie Jean” the original, but the version here makes appreciable the quality of the composition. So, too, with the Lady Gaga tune, which sounds here much like a Dan Hicks approach. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that this is a fun record—sometimes ragged, sometimes goofy, sometimes strange, always fun. (Smokey Fennell, 91 Birch Pl., Ft. Saskatchewan, AB Canada, T8L OA5, www.sameoldnewgrass.com.)BW