Bluegrass Briefs – Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, EZRA, Pine Tree Flyers, Jeff Curtis

Bluegrass continues to be a broad church, and all the better for it. Where some aspects of roots music seem stuck in their own self-imposed niches, Bluegrass draws influences from anywhere that has good ideas to share. This time we have albums that test the definition of Bluegrass to near destruction, but without ever losing sight of the traditional instrumental expertise ad the passion that is that hallmark of the genre.

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes – ‘I Built A World’

A good example of how Bluegrass crosses over with more mainstream bits of Country but keeps the heart and soul alive. “A lot of the songs are gathered from my friend group and community here in Nashville,” she says. “I reached out to friends and just people whose music I liked and asked, ‘Is there any chance you have anything that you’re not planning on recording?'” ‘Angel Island’ has Jerry Douglas’ distinctive Dobro growl all over it, begging comparisons with Alison Krauss. Keith-Hynes is an altogether grittier singer, and a far more inventive fiddle player. ‘Trip Around The Sun’s’ solo being an extended delight. There’s the more traditional frenetic instrumental ‘Scotty’s Hoedown’ to keep the purists happy, but everything here is recognisably Bluegrass, and sits very comfortably as one of the albums that those who say they don’t like Bluegrass should hear. Probably the best genre album this year, so far, and high up on the list of any roots adjacent music in 2024.


By way of contrast, EZRA “is a collective of classical, jazz, rock, and bluegrass musicians focused on the creation of genre-crossing and style-inclusive new music.” Founded by a multi-instrumentalist Jesse Jones, and featuring 9 of his compositions, this is cinematic instrumental music with the emphasis on atmosphere rather than tunes. Opener ‘Smoke in the Valley’ features extended workouts form bassist Craig Butterfield. ‘Jarrah’ is more Bluegrass in construction, at least to start before drifting into abstract solos from all the players, with Mandolin virtuoso Jacob Jolliff winning the battle this time. ‘Banjaleena’ is the most accessible tune here and was the single lifted from the album. Although there is nothing here that could be called commercial it is a fascinating diversion into Chamber Bluegrass that will I expect mainly appeal to those who love instrumental gymnastics. Up there with Bela Fleck as explorers on the outer fringes of Bluegrass.

Pine Tree Flyers – ‘Pine Tree Flyers’

Bluegrass is generally seen as a Southern music form, so including an album “that champions the traditional music from New England” may seem more likely to show in our Folk Roundup. But the construction of the tunes and the passion with which they are played makes this album sit in just as well here. Emily Troll’s Accordion carries many of the tunes which are strung together in the way of country dances from Boston Lincs to Boston MA. Lady of the Lake/Lady Walpole/Lady Ann Montgomery.’ With so much of the traditional music from the East Coast of the USA having its roots in British tunes it’s always interesting to hear touches of things that we still listen to in folk clubs around England showing up in music from new England or Appalachia. Closing tune ‘Vidita’ has a piano part that could have come of any one of a thousand Americana albums. An interesting mix of styles that should appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in the more traditional aspects of American music.

Jeff Curtis – ‘Sailing Away Under Heavy Rains’

Another album that sits on the boundary between Bluegrass and Folk and could have been included either here or in Jonathan Aird’s folk roundup. Curtis plays both steel-string and nylgut-string banjos. The instrumentation on the album also includes bowed and plucked upright bass, electric tanpura, tablas, as well as rhythm provided by mechanical water pump, singing insects and birds, and assorted atmospheric phenomena, like the pouring rain on ‘High Water Under Heavy Rains’ and Cicadas on ‘Lanternfly.’ He’s also coined a new (at least to me) term. Ambient Americana. The repeating patterns on ‘Lead Apron’ are the most obvious example of this. The album’s darkest moments come on ‘Death Is Only A Dream’ with the drone behind the Banjo and the words which are intoned more than sung lend a thoroughly spooky air to the tune.  This is a fascinating and lovely album, not your regular Bluegrass. Not your regular music in any genre, but once you have tuned your ear to Curtis you won’t want to let it go.

About Tim Martin 247 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jeremy Courtnadge

I’m always glad to read about Bluegrass here. Worth mentioning that Bronwyn Keith-Hynes is the regular fiddle player in Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway and is a past winner of the IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year award. This album has numerous Bluegrass and Country ‘stars’ across the tracks.

Pine Tree Flyers has Owen Marshall on guitar. His solo album from last year is worth a listen, as is the one he did some years ago with Brittany Haas and Joe K Walsh.

Thanks for the article.