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Lyricism - Curated by Chris Thomas

Date: October 2018

There was a time when the  musical description ‘Country’ might bring a collective sigh of horror from Audiophiles – but no longer.  The American Bluegrass scene has expanded beyond recognition and its influences extend far beyond the front porch or The Grand Ole Oprey these days.  Labelling is a thing of the past.  It’s also an area of music where you simply have to be able to play to achieve recognition or a recording contract.  Some of the artists here are at the very peak of achievement and ability.  They are largely acoustic musicians who combine truly formidable playing skills with a sweet harmonic sensibility hence the Lyricism tag.  I hope you enjoy the music and use the artists featured as a springboard into a musical journey of your own.


  1. OUT OF THE WOODS: Nickel Creek come together to make great albums and then drift apart to get involved in solo projects.  Enormously talented musicians in their own right they found a producer in Alison Krauss on this album who bought the music alive.  It’s a very accomplished album all round.  Perhaps their strongest?  They all sing, they all play brilliantly and they all write.  This is the result.
  2. FEEDBACK LOOP: Which brings us to Chris Thile who is a member of Nickel Creek and one of the finest acoustic musicians I have ever heard. His own albums are perhaps more diverse in their roots than NC but his mandolin playing is pure magic and he has a great sense of atmosphere about his music too.
  3. 20 YEARS: On/off, on/off duo The Civil Wars are tight and self-contained musically.  Their harmonies are superb too.  I really like Barton Hollow.  The nature of this new Bluegrass movement finds quality musicians forming new partnerships and projects all the time.  I don’t know if we will hear any more of The Civil Wars in the future but they burned brightly here.
  4. AMERICAN TUNE: You probably know some of the work of Canadian artist Shawn Colvin. Her influences run deep.  Here she gives a lovely rendition of the great Paul Simon song and she keeps it as lyrical and simple as it deserves.
  5. DARK TURN OF MIND: When you listen to Gillian or watch her videos you can’t help but feel that a part of her is locked back in the American dust bowl of the 1930’s.  She is a wonderful artist whose music drips with atmosphere.  This is reinforced with her collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and partner David Rawlings and they both stick to vintage instruments to bring a woody, twangy feel to their music.  Lots of open spaces and acoustic references along the way too
  6. NEVER DIE YOUNG: Perhaps slightly the odd-man-out of this list.  Luciana is a Brazilian poet who most certainly has her own style.  She is married to bassist/producer Larry Klein, the ex-husband of Joni Mitchell and he produced The New Bossa Nova and is largely responsible for its special rather low -key atmosphere and colour.  On this track she collaborates with James Taylor to perform his enigmatic song Never Die Young.  It is a wonderfully textured album tailored to her classic Bossa delivery.  Full of some of the most understated playing you will hear.  She is a very interesting artist with a very wide range of material in her repertoire.
  7. REVELATOR: Another Gillian Welch song from Time, The Revelator.  I can remember hearing this album for the first time many years ago and becoming intrigued with its rather melancholy nature and its curious unfolding of rhythm and the languid tempo.  It’s become a classic since those days.
  8. ALL THIS TIME: Sara Watkins is a third of Nickel Creek alongside Chris Thile and her brother Sean.  She is a remarkable fiddle player and a lovely singer. Another artist who has years of music making ahead of them and the talent to surprise us all.
  9. TAKE ME BACK: Sarah Jarosz burst onto the scene when she was about 17 years old with an album full of songs of maturity and depth.  The New Bluegrass community sat up and took notice of her prodigious talent.  She is almost a classic singer/songwriter of the old tradition yet she is also undeniably totally contemporary.  She is popping up all over the place now and deserves all of her success.  It’s going to be interesting to see where she takes her music.
  10. NEW FAVOURITE: After I saw them I thought Union Station were quite simply the best acoustic band I had ever heard.  Their line-up of talent is stellar and they have Alison Krauss onboard here for a double CD of a live concert.  I could have picked any number of songs but New Favourite is a classic.
  11. OH NO NOT MY BABY: I don’t know anything about this band but I remember this song from decades back. It’s a classic from Carole King and Gerry Goffin from 1964 so it’s written with lots of little hooks and catchy moments.
  12. PE IN EIRINN: Transatlantic Sessions was a great series from BBC 4.  Rarely have so many musicians been brought together for fireside performances that spanned all sorts of country and Gaelic roots.  It truly was epic and this is an atmospheric end to the list.  I would encourage any of you who have the means, to look deeply into what Gerry Douglas (Union Station) and Aly Bain achieve during this wonderful experience.