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Sam Bush - Circles Around Me

Circles Around Me

Sam Bush

Sugar Hill Records - SUG CD 4056

Available from Sam Bush's web site.

A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Frank Gutch Jr.

The fact that Sam Bush dedicated this album to the memory of Tim Krekel speaks volumes for both Bush and Krekel. Krekel, known mainly for his songwriting (outside his small circle of friends, who remember him as the outstanding musician that he was), passed away on June 24th of 2009 and left a gaping hole amidst a group of musicians from the South who pride themselves on taking their music to the people, wherever they may be. It is more than obvious that Bush holds a piece of Krekel in his heart and that when Krekel left, he took a piece of Bush with him.

It is no surprise, then, that Sam Bush placed Krekel's name on an album that encompasses the years that both dedicated to their music—Krekel with artists like Billy Swan, Jimmy Buffett and with bands such as The Sluggers and The Groovebillys, Bush with New Grass Revival and his own band as well as a thousand guest appearances, on record and live, with an astounding number of country and bluegrass artists who placed the call when needing assistance. Indeed, Bush is one of the handful of 'go-to' musicians when projects begin to take shape within the bluegrass and country community.

Young people will know him as the leader of the Sam Bush Band, whose videos lit up CMT for a time with that mixture of bluegrass/country/rock roots that transcend genre. For those of us a bit older, though, he is one of those who led stodgy bluegrass out of the mountains and swamps and into the cities. Sure, we didn't know his name nor that of any of the others in New Grass Revival, but we knew the band. They were the upstarts willing to bastardize the tradition by plugging in and turning up and while the old-timers had a problem with it, a seed was planted in many a young rocker who before discovering NGR knew roots only from the standpoint of Blues and R&B.

Yessir, ol' Sam has seen many a change in the music biz since he started. He admits that he is not young anymore (his exact quote is "In my brain, I'm still 17, but I look in the mirror and I'm 57") and yet he is. Every time he picks up his instruments (mandolin and fiddle on Circles Around Me), he steps closer to 17 than 57. You can hear it in his playing and on this album you can hear it in his choices of songs.

He steps into and beyond New Grass Revival territory with three longer-than-normal compositions, something for which NGR was known. Junior Heywood is six minutes and thirty-four seconds worth of outstanding country and bluegrass jam, though it is more composition than jam. Written by Bush and Edgar Meyer who guests on bass, it travels a road less taken, a loping mandolin- and dobro-led trek along Americana/Celtic lines (Jerry Douglas lending his enormous talents on dobro). The Sam Bush-penned Blue Mountain steps into the bluegrass jam category, six minutes and seven seconds worth. Evidently the theme here is 'in for a minute, in for six minutes' and when you hear it, you can't help but be fine with it. It is prime instrumental stuff and gives the band a chance to shine—Chris Brown lays down that perfect shuffle rhythm while Bush mandolinizes and Stephen Mougin guitarizes and Byron House bassizes and Scott Vestal banjoizes. The solos are so much a part of the music, you don't even realize that they are (solos, that is). Oh, that statement about being in for six minutes? Bush kicks that aside for the eight minute-plus Souvenir Bottles, a story put to music in the best of fashion. When the story gives way to jam, it stretches beyond story and becomes musical journey until it ends, Disney-style, bringing the story full circle.

I remember hearing of David 'Stringbean' Akeman and wife Estelle's deaths in the early seventies but did not know the story until I heard The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle. I have never been a fan of details when it comes to tragedy, yet Bush and crew handle it with amazing taste. Written by Guy Clark, Verlon Thompson and Sam Bush, the song has an eerie sense about it without the sensationalism the media applied to the whole horrifying event. Still, it raises the hairs on the back of my neck even after all these years.

Bush steps into the traditional vocal bluegrass world when he brings in Del McCoury to sing on Roll On Buddy, Roll On. In style and intent, it parallels the standard bluegrass we came to know with the popularity of the genre on radio and later adapted by bands of the fifties and sixties—Flatt & Scruggs, Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys and the like. McCoury's voice is ready-made for such songs and doesn't disappoint here. McCoury even goes one better on the classic Midnight On the Stormy Deep, bringing back the days of The Blue Sky Boys and The Delmore Brothers with his 'high lonesome' harmonies. This, my friends, is what drew me to bluegrass in the first place and I still do not hear it enough.

This is a musician's album, my friends. Every once in awhile, a musician has to put down his instrument and listen—to catch a breath and refuel, as it were—and there is no doubt in my mind that this will be a choice for many. I would say that ol' Sam stepped out on this one, but I've come to expect nothing but the best from him. His track record speaks for itself as does the music. If you don't buy this, at least listen to it. This is a revival of the very best kind.

Track List:

  • Circles Around Me/Jeff Black & Sam Bush (Lotos Nile Music/BMI and Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • Diamond Joe/Trad. Arr. Sam Bush (Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • You Left Me Alone/Tom Gray & Jerry Stuart (Wynwood Music/BMI)
  • The Old North Woods/Sam Bush (Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • Roll On Buddy, Roll On/Teddy & Doyle Wilborn (Sure Fire Music Pub./BMI)
  • The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle/Guy Clark, Verlon Thompson & Sam Bush (EMI/April Music Inc./ASCAP, Music of RPM-Victor Tango Music/ASCAP, and Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • Blue Mountain/Sam Bush (Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • Out On the Ocean/Peter Kuykendall (Wynwood Music/BMI)
  • Junior Heywood/Edgar Meyer & Sam Bush (Eggbert Music, Hendon Music, Inc/BMI and Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • Midnight On the Stormy Deep/Trad. Arr. Sam Bush (Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • Apple Blossom/Trad. Arr. Sam Bush (Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • Souvenir Bottles/Stephen F. Brines, John Cowan & Sam Bush (Cowvox Music/ASCAP & Samanda Lynn Music/BMI)
  • Whisper My Name/Ebo Walker (Fall City Music/BMI)

Edited by: David N. Pyles


Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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