“The Bluegrass Situation” on Curtis McPeake and “Leather Britches” (McPeake & May, “The Good Things”)

There’s a beauty in the timelessness of bluegrass. It facilitates spaces where the youngest prodigies and the most traveled, veteran virtuosos intermingle with ease. The genre is young enough that a few of its trailblazers are still among us, and stories of the legendary architects of the form are still told firsthand. The 90-year-old banjo player and recording artist Curtis McPeake is a testament to that timelessness. His career began seventy years ago; in his early days he performed and recorded with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. He later became the only banjo player to ever be a member of the Grand Ole Opry house band and he was also an in-demand session musician, appearing on records by country stars like George Jones and Melba Montgomery. So the fact that McPeake has been named a recipient of one of 2018’s Distinguished Achievement Awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association should come as no surprise.

But, McPeake will not be accepting the award from retirement — he still picks the banjo as fine as ever, he also buys and sells instruments, and he continues to record and perform. Earlier this year he and his collaborator, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Andy May, released a full-length album, The Good Things (Outweigh the Bad). On its final track, “Leather Britches,” you can hear that same timelessness in McPeake’s duet with Nashville stalwart fiddler Aubrey Haynie. They kick the tune with fiddle and banjo only, showcasing that classic pre-bluegrass format, Haynie fiddling fantastically far and wide while McPeake holds it all together with his three-finger roll, seventy years in the making.

Justin HiltnerThe Bluegrass Situation – TUNESDAY TUESDAY -Sep 4, 2018
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