Soundgarden’s 1994 classic “Black Hole Sun” is one of rock’s titanic singles. The anthem carries an inextinguishable torch for grunge — its generational malaise, its plodding melancholia. Yet the song’s singular beauty arises from the ways it lifts the genre’s massive, earth-bound sounds to new and transcendent heights. In the song’s airy verses, Chris Cornell’s words swirl like gathering storm clouds, brewing power pop melodies and Sgt. Pepper psychedelia into a festering, ominous mass. By the time its final iconic chorus drops, “Black Hole Sun” has soared amid some pretty expansive sonic vistas — heaven, earth and back again.
Songwriter, banjo-picker, old-time fiddler, dancer, tv star, radio dj, and, perhaps most importantly, professional riverboat pilot. Welcome to the weird, wide world of John Hartford.
Hartford was a cross between Bill Monroe and Mark Twain—he titled one of his albums Mark Twang. He was among the first to join hippie sensibilities with hillbilly ways. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, Hartford was both a vivid reminder of America’s past musical heritage, and also a harbinger of things to come; he shaped contemporary music almost in spite of himself. “Newgrass,” which in turn fed into the jam band phenomena, is basically Hartford’s concoction (though mandolinist Sam Bush gets some credit too). Even Americana, as it is currently defined, is impossible to imagine without him—the blockbuster O Brother, Where Art Thou project has Hartford’s fingerprints and spirit all over it.
So a new John Hartford Tribute album is most welcomed, and now we have one in hand: On the Road, from LoHi Records. It’s a dang good tribute album, too, starting with the opening cut (by Hartford’s co-conspirator Sam Bush), and never letting up.
‘King of the mandolin’, Sam Bush, is an annual performer and part of the house band at Telluride Bluegrass Festival. He has been performing for a majority of the 40 years since the festival started and always brings something new. This year during his Sam Bush Band set on Saturday, he invited Ben Kaufman of Yonder Mountain String Band, bassist extraordinaire Edgar Meyer, banjo master Bela Fleck and more for a surprising set closer.