For decades, genres were clearly delineated. If you wrote a rock anthem, it would always be a rock anthem. If you wrote a pop power ballad, it would always be a pop power ballad. Rock was rock, heavy metal was heavy metal, and so on. That’s how things were and we liked it like that. For the most part.
But then things changed as bluegrass musicians began to show the world that bluegrass wasn’t the annoying little brother of other musical genres. It was a world-class style in its own right. Once people starting to sit up and pay attention to what was going on in bluegrass circles, some interesting surprises began to emerge.
I’ve always been interested in other genres, and I’ve always appreciated the talent it takes to play bluegrass well. It’s no surprise then that ten years ago, I began to pay attention to what some bluegrass pickers were up to as they wrote and recorded arrangements to songs that were well entrenched in “music of the gods” land (and therefore off-limits to anyone daring to play them any way other than how the songs were originally recorded).
I remember the first time I played a track from Hayseed Dixie for an engineer friend of mine. He nearly fell off his chair laughing at first, but once he calmed down and listened to the arrangement from a professional perspective, he admitted that the arrangement worked. It still made him laugh though because he was a die-hard fan of the original.
Over the years, there have been some new fangled arrangements that have been eye-opening to say the least. Earlier this week, Donald Quan (owner of Musideum and a fabulous musician, composer and arranger himself) introduced me to Iron Horse’s version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Get out of town! Seriously? Truth be told, I’m happy that Donald shared the link otherwise I might have missed this.
In some ways, bluegrass arrangements of classic rock songs is probably what inspired the produces of GLEE to write new arrangements of old favorites including “Don’t Stop Believing.” But would they have been so inspired if it hadn’t been for those bluegrass versions of classic rock songs? Who knows? Regardless, the Original Pine Mountain Railroad boys weren’t going to be dissuaded from performing their version as a tribute to Triumph.
Beyoncé isn’t immune to the bluegrass treatment either. In fact, the Cleverlys performed their version of “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” where it was clear that the audience loved this new version!
In the end, I have to say that the most ambitious bluegrass arrangement I’ve heard to date — and performed live on stage — has got to be for this song by South Korean K-pop star, PSY.
Never write off a style or a genre without giving it a chance to grow on you. When it takes on one or more of your all-time favorite classics, don’t be too quick to dismiss it. Given half a chance, you might just uncover a new genre that appeals to you. And if it doesn’t, at the very least, you’ve spent some time putting some humor into your day. Enjoy!