What is Roots Music?
The catch all classification of “Roots Music” seems to imply that all — or most — of our current music comes from this genre. Indeed you can hear echoes of roots music in all genres including folk, country, jazz, blues, even rock ‘n’ roll. Yet in our day, the term has come to be equated with bluegrass music. It is easy to hear that much of bluegrass music was influenced by the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland, so could we say that bluegrass is Celtic Music? Perhaps, but that may be stretching the point a bit. What we can definitively say is that the melting pot of Appalachia has a rich and varied musical heritage to draw from. Roots Music in itself is a very broad field to plow in, and it would be impossible to give a decent overview of the genre in the amount of time and space allotted here. Instead I will choose 7 records that are of esthetic or historical merit, and certainly are worth listening to. Several of these picks are live recordings. This is because there is something about seeing and hearing the performer that is lost on the cold surface of a digital disc, tape, or even vinyl when it is isolated in a recording studio.
Want to learn more? Check out one of the Orem Library’s excellent documentary films on the topic. Start with Country Music by Ken Burns, which is a comprehensive look at country music with more than a passing nod to bluegrass, and High Lonesome: the Story of Bluegrass.
7 Bluegrass Records to Check Out Today
By Bill Monroe
Legend has it that the moment Bill Monroe came down the mountain, Bluegrass music was born. Bill Monroe was the musician who really brought bluegrass music to the masses. He knew how to work the radio stations as publicity to promote his work, and this led to records and live performances that kept him in business for years.
By The Stanley Brothers
As the title suggests, this is pretty much everything that the Stanly Brothers put on record. They began by covering a lot of Bill Monroe’s material to not much success. So, they started writing songs for themselves and were much more successful. Eventually, the brothers broke up. Carter went on to sing for Bill Monroe, and Ralph had a successful career on his own.
By Foggy Mountain Boys
You could say that Flatt & Scruggs were responsible for the first small resurgence of roots music in America. Their recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was used in the soundtrack of the motion picture Bonnie and Clyde. It had also been used to introduce the Beverly Hillbillies on TV. They even did a guest spot on that show. Scruggs is credited with introducing the three finger style of banjo playing in contrast to the claw hammer style that was then used almost exclusively.
By Bela Fleck
Bela Anton Leos Fleck was perceived by many as the first Hungarian bluegrass banjo player. In reality he was born in New York. He was named after the composers Bartok, Webern and Janacek. His virtuosity has led him to other fields of music including jazz, classical, rock, and world music in many forms. Sometimes the image of a jazz banjo player just blows my mind.
By John Hartford
John Hartford the singer, banjo player, author, and river pilot occupies a unique position in the roots universe. He is a bit of a comedian as well as being accomplished on many instruments. He is also one of the most successful songwriters ever. His song, “Gentle on My Mind” is one of the most covered songs, ever!
By Alison Krauss + Union Station
Alison Krauss has one of the most pure voices in roots music. She plays the fiddle with skill and has surrounded herself with stellar musicians in the form of Union Station. She has broadened her musical horizon by collaborating with musicians as diverse as Gillian Welch and Robert Plant. Yes, the same Robert Plant who vocalized for Led Zeppelin all those years. This live album is spectacular.
By Steve Martin
Before he was a “wild and crazy guy,” Steve Martin was a writer of television shows and an accomplished banjo player. Later, he would often use the banjo in his comedy shtick. Since he has settled back with his career, he has taken up his interest with new fervor. He often performs with his back-up band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and vocalist Edie Brickell.
Written by Richard, Media Librarian