Jan
15

Album Review – Anderson Family ‘Live From Grass Valley’

January 15, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  19 Comments

One of my hard and fast music theories is that there’s too much new music being pumped into the modern consciousness these days. Too many folks are getting into music for all the wrong reasons, looking for national attention, flooding the marketplace, diluting attention from the artists and projects that deserve it. So on face value, you may look at live album from a bluegrass band consisting of all covers and traditionals and ask, “Why”?

Add on top of that, the bluegrass discipline itself seems so glutted in the post O Brother Where Art Thou landscape. You can have a bluegrass picker who is at the absolute top of the mountain in regards to technique, and where this used to land him or her in a top-tier nationally-touring bluegrass outfit, the market is so flooded with these folks now they are almost commonplace at any local or regional bluegrass festival.

What makes The Anderson Family Band cut through the din of bluegrass parody beyond the stellar musicianship and the novelty of that musicianship being displayed through youth, is their unique approach that embodies a very wise understanding of the roots of bluegrass. Bluegrass didn’t grow out of boredom, it grew out of necessity. The old timers who formed the modes and pentameters of this music weren’t searching for an elective in their lives, they were fighting to stay alive through the uplifting spirit of music. No different than food, water, raiment, and shelter, it was essential to their existence and identity.

Furthermore, it was from this essential nature of the music that the tradition of the family band was formed, and music made by families is at the very root of country and bluegrass. It may be easy to look at this band and imagine mom and dad cracking a whip over the kiddos to become maestros of their instruments or there’s no dessert that night. But all true bluegrass players don’t play music because they want to, they play it because they have to. It is ingrained in them since birth. Before TV and internet and i-somethings chirping at us incessantly, if you wanted to hear or make music, you had to enlist the family, because they were the only other people around.

There is a tremendous amount of soul and inspiration that can be gleaned from watching a family band form. Regardless of the goals or outcomes, whether these kids grow up to be big in music or use their experiences as a resume point in the business world, they will have the bonds and experiences in their family band to make them stronger people first, and that is something we can all be inspired by, if not outright jealous of.

And The Anderson Family Band is not just a robotic, generic bluegrass band. What I like about them is they have their own unique style; the band as a whole and each individual player. They have darkness to their music. Most of their songs have somber themes and employ dark chords and structures. They dress in black, and on the cover and inset of this CD, there’s not one smile among them. This helps breed the serious nature of their approach, which refreshingly doesn’t seem to want to tackle the world, but instead give friends and neighbors the gift of music, which again, was the focus of bluegrass at it’s roots, and in my opinion, the reason Live From Grass Valley should be given national attention above many others.

Their take on traditional bluegrass is engaging. The contrast between the many-times dark-themed songs being sung by the soft voices of young girls really makes The Anderson Family intriguing to the ear. Instead of looking at a track list of familiar songs and rolling your eyes saying, “Why do I need to hear another version of that“, you get excited to hear the Anderson Family’s take. As with all young voices, you can tell in places that the singing tone is still in the development stage, but don’t mistake this with being off-key or bad. Their singing, just like their playing, is spot on.

I’m not going to mention the ages of the Anderson Family players, because in my opinion, it’s irrelevant. I don’t believe in age discrimination or preference in music, and from just listening to this album and seeing videos, the Anderson Family kids should be seen as peers of the adults in the bluegrass discipline. I do want you to pay special attention to Paige Anderson though, the oldest of the siblings. She fronts this family band, and individually embodies many of the things that excite me about The Anderson Family as a whole.

Watching Paige Anderson, I see passion. This helps validate a worry that some may have with a band like this, that the talent is all skin deep, and based on training and memory. And she’s a flat picker, meaning instead of using all her fingers to pick the guitar, she uses a single pick, and strikes each string individually, which allows the guitar to burst through better than finger picking. In bluegrass, the guitar is usually a rhythm instrument; there’s just too much other stuff going on for it to be featured. But when you have a flat picker of the caliber of Paige, it is what you build your bluegrass band around. Check this out:

Paige Anderson is one to keep an eye on. She’s a great singer with a confident stage presence, and she can play clawhammer banjo and mandolin as well. What I am interested to see now is if songwriting develops as one of her tools. Check out Paige performing solo at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass:

The Anderson Family Bluegrass Band from Grass Valley is an inspiration, and this live album recorded right in their hometown community is an excellent reminder and example of how strong family and community built through music can have such a greater impact on the soul and heart than just music itself.

Two guns up!

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 Preview Tracks and Purchase Live from Grass Valley on CD Baby

19 Comments to “Album Review – Anderson Family ‘Live From Grass Valley’”

  • Beautiful brother. The Anderson Family are friends with us and possessed by Paul James got to play a handful of shows with them. Great write up Triggerman

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    • I think I saw a picture somewhere with Paige Anderson wearing a Hillgrass Bluebilly T-shirt, and that is when I knew she “gets it”.

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      • ha ha… Im’a look for that! Thanks man.

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  • Nice! I love to see families play together. I’ve found out, through my own experience, that there is something special that goes on when your band members are your family. My husband and my brother are in our band, and we click on a level that I haven’t clicked on with any other people…no matter how much I love those folks. I’m anxious to see where the road takes the Anderson family. I love their sound!

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    • “Clicking” is a good way to put it. When you know the people you’re playing with on such a personal level, especially in bluegrass where anticipation and feel are so important, it can make all the difference. This review was getting so long I didn’t get the chance to elaborate on that point more, but from The Carter Family to Willie & Paula Nelson, so much great music is instilled with family ties. Blood is thicker.

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    • Agreed! My Dad’s a bluegrass player (mandolin and guitar), and there’s something realy magical that happens when we play and sing together. I don’t know if it’s anything that can be defined or measured that makes family and music together so special, or if it’s simply the love and family bond that puts that much extra heart and soul into it. But whatever it is, it can’t be denied. And something about the organic nature of bluegrass seems to make it that much more prominent. I mean, look at how amazing it is when the Del McCoury band plays, or when Ralph Stanley and Ralph Stanley III perform. Great stuff!

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  • Great review. I’ll have to check them out.

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    • They’re pretty close to your neck of the woods.

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  • Beautiful.

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  • Great stuff Trig. Paige Anderson is one of my favorite guitar players these days. You’re right,she does “get it”. I was sending her Clarence White bootlegs when she was a little bitty kid. She’s always “got it”.
    Those folks are the real deal!

    Another good one man!

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  • Very cool… Some would argue though that a dobro doesn’t belong in “true” Bluegrass music..

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    • Well those purists need to lighten up and not exclude themselves from good music, and that means a lot coming from me.

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  • Great review Trigg. The Anderson Family lives right up the mountain from us. We randomly caught them playing the Nevada County Fair a few years back. They are a great band and glad to see you give them such a great review. I only have their first album, I will have to find out where they are playing again so I can get this one too.

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  • Once again you turned me onto some good music that I might have not heard of otherwise. Thanks for all you do !!

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  • Man, I’m sitting here at work watching videos of this family (thanks to you) and I have to stop cause I don’t want people seeing me cry.

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  • Do they have this out on vinyl?

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  • I’m not sure I quite understand your statement that there are too many good pickers. I’m not sure I see how this is bad?

    Also, while the guitar is a rhythm instrument, flatpicking has been featured in bluegrass for decades.

    A cool band to be sure, but as a bluegrass musician, I don’t completely agree with your characterization of the music, its genesis, or its current state.

    But, as always in music: Whatever it means to you(the listener) is right. Same song might not mean the same thing to everybody.

    Anywho, keep up the good work.

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    • Dan,

      I was not saying there’s too many good pickers, I was saying there’s too many pickers, period, all vying for national attention, making it harder for the average Joe to sift through the chaff and discover the current greats of the craft.

      I agree that flat picking has been featured in bluegrass for decades, I didn’t say it wasn’t. What I said is generally speaking, it is rare to see it featured in a bluegrass band as it is to this extent.

      I many times use my album reviews to make bigger statements about my opinions about the greater music world. I understand some people may take my opinions the wrong way, but that is all they are: opinions. I do think there is too much music, and specifically, too much bluegrass music. That is why I like The Anderson Family, because their take is fresh and unique, yet still traditional. They struck a good formula.

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