ARTIST: JEREMY GARRETT

TITLE: I AM A STRANGER

LABEL: SUGAR HILL

RELEASE DATE: March 2009

BY SUSIE GLAZE

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The state of contemporary Bluegrass is in an interesting position: the genre has become a new melting pot, an amalgam of styles and sounds encompassing Old Time, Folk, Blues, Country, Jazz, Pop and, of course (hopefully!) Bluegrass - the original sounds of Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. Why this is interesting is because Bluegrass at its creation was a monumental evolution of gathered sounds, from Tin Pan Alley, Blues, Black Gospel, Appalachian ballads, Irish dance music, set to a blindingly fast pace, with high lead vocals and group harmonies tighter than a drum. So now, it's gratifying to watch it growing again and changing with this new generation, called "a Bluegrass youth revolution" by some, all the while reaching back to grab, with love and reverence, the old sounds of driving Bluegrass, George Jones-type country music, Western Swing and mountain fiddle, melding with pop-flavored contemporary sounds.

The contemporary Nashville Bluegrass group The Infamous Stringdusters sprung on the scene in 2007 and made a big splash. They were six young country musicians working in Nashville who decided to form a new bluegrass band themselves and quickly took Nashville by storm, winning awards and touring like crazy. Among their fine players is Jeremy Garrett on fiddle and vocals. He's produced and just released his solo album I Am A Stranger on the Stringdusters' label, Sugar Hill, the same company that distributed for Dolly Parton's return to Bluegrass as well as many other very fine musicians such as Tim O'Brien (who produced the Stringdusters' second release). Indeed, clear echoes of O'Brien can be heard in Garrett's singing - he's very similar to O'Brien in his ability to straddle the worlds and sounds of good Bluegrass lead singing with more of a folk-sounding warmth. It's a clean, warm Bluegrass tenor, with added tasty decorations that distinctly recall the best male Bluegrass singer (perhaps ever), Ricky Skaggs. O'Brien's been called a pioneer of the progressive school of roots and Bluegrass, and I agree. So his influence is keenly felt here with Garrett, and I think it's great. The eclectic nature of it embraces musical origins while leading you to the new, kinder and gentler destination of its future at the same time. So there's this great arc of time that you can see and feel and sense as you listen.

The bridging of the vocal style is right for this mix, and shows Garrett to be flexible enough to give out a great performance on such diversity as Hank Thompson's Today (with pedal steel, piano and drums, sounding just as Grand Ole Opry as you can get, reminding me of the great Mac Weisman), and right after it a plaintive (and fabulous) mountain fiddle/vocal duet The Fields of My Mind (the liner notes state, "Played and sung at the same time, not over-dubbed."). The fact that he can go from one end of the swing to the other back-to-back is impressive and gratifying. I can just hear Lester Flatt saying "mighty fine, mighty fine!" (Bob Wills, too!)

Garrett's written great songs on this album as well, the title track being one of them, written with his Dad, Glen Garrett. The elder Garrett also shows up with another great song Give it Up (written with Craig Market) which is about opening your heart to trust, written with easy and authentic poetry. Jeremy's Echoes of Goodbye is a great new original song worthy of standard-status in the vein of the New Grass Revival, while his absolutely hot instrumental Y2K achieves authentic lift-off near its exciting climax. I especially enjoyed how, in John Pennell's and Jeff White's End Of The Line there is a soulful fiddle/banjo duet offered as beginning and end, giving you an old/new experience in one tune, and the lush Peace King written by Garrett with Chris Pandolfi, sounding a lot like the smooth and lovely classical/acoustic instrumental work done by Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor. There's also the great Claud Vernon and Jerry Organ standard from Flatt & Scruggs days What's Good For You, rendered perfectly here. I love that he finishes the album with a cover of a U2 song he states in the notes that he always loved, and has remade in his own style, North and South of the River. It's the most lyric-driven song on the album, and I think a stab at making a statement about regrets and ending old ways. That says a lot about the culture that Bluegrass music has historically found itself in, and I find it a welcome ray of sunshine:

There was a badness that had its way

But love wasn't lost, love will have its day...

'Cause there's no feeling that's so alone

As when the one you're hurting is your own...

Some high ground is not worth taking

Some connections are not worth making

This old church bell no longer ringing

Some old songs are not worth bringing

The majority of the players here are not surprisingly his Stringduster band mates Andy Hall, Andy Falco, Travis Book, Chris Pandolfi and Jesse Cobb, adding other great guests Dennis Crouch, Jamie Dailey, Abigail Washburn, Mike Compton, Shawn Lane, Julie Elkins, Chris Sharp, Mike Compton, Mike Bub, Paul Franklin and Jeff Taylor. Everyone is first rate, but I must shout-out to Travis Book on bass who makes everything really cook on Y2K.

Jeremy Garrett is a gifted young player and songwriter from a new generation of young musicians who revere the past while embracing their interest in more contemporary sounds and flavors. And for the fact that he's writing new classics and really knows how to get them done, he's someone to watch and enjoy. There's something for everybody on I Am A Stranger, a truly feel-good and beautiful album, and the well-crafted, wide-ranging styles explore and celebrate across a broad and deep spectrum of Americana. When you hear it, you'll say "if that's Bluegrass, then I love Bluegrass!" and to me that's worth the price of admission.

Award-winning recording artist and critically-acclaimed Bluegrass powerhouse vocalist, Susie Glaze has been called by BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED "an important voice on the California Bluegrass scene." Her album "Blue Eyed Darlin'" was the winner of the Just Plain Folks 2006 Music Award for Best Roots Album and FolkWorks' Pick for Best Bluegrass Album of 2005. "One of the most beautiful voices in bluegrass and folk music today." (Roz Larman of FolkScene). Susie's new release Green Kentucky Blues and additional recordings can be found at www.susieglaze.com.