Even among the pantheon of music’s finest artists, Del McCoury stands alone. From the nascent sound of bluegrass that charmed hardscrabble hillbilly honkytonks, rural schoolhouse stages, and the crowning glory of the Grand Ole Opry to the present-day culture-buzz of viral videos and digital streams, Del is the living link. From headlining sold-out concerts to music festivals of all genres, including one carrying his namesake, there is Del. Where audiences number in the tens of thousands, and admirers as diverse as country-rock icon Steve Earle and jamband royalty Phish count as two among hundreds, there is Del. On May 25th (the same weekend as the 11th annual all-star DelFest event) Del McCoury continues with the release of his new album Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass (the album title is a nod to his 1968 record, Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass). On Friday, Rolling Stone Country debuted the single “To Make Love Sweeter For You” calling it a “tempting taste” of the forthcoming LP; noting “…McCoury’s high lonesome vocal is accompanied by rolling piano and weepy fiddle, turning the romantic tune into one that could easily pivot toward unrelenting regret.” Also last week, Garden & Gundebuted Del McCoury’s Back Porch Session featuring 3 songs, one of which (“Letters Have No Arms”) is on the new record.
With 14 songs brimming with hot licks, classic songcraft, even some boundary-stretching electric guitar, and once again, Del’s matchless vocal delivery, the Del McCoury Band moves up the gold bar standard of bluegrass yet another notch. “What I like in a record is variety of moods, of tempos,” Del says. “I consider myself traditional at heart, but I don’t have any boundaries. I’m just a guy that likes to sing and play music. Whatever strikes me to do I’ll do it. Without wrecking things.” The album features his fine band (Ronnie McCoury on Mandolin, Rob McCoury on Banjo, Jason Carter on fiddle, Alan Bartran on bass) with a guest electric guitar from his grandson, Heaven McCoury, on a kicking cover of Shawn Camp’s tune “Hot Wired”. Del noting that having Ronnie’s son, Heaven, on the record playing electric guitar reminds him of the Del McCoury Band playing with Phish– and how well Trey Anastasio’s guitar blended with bluegrass.
Emerging from humble beginnings in York County, PA nearly eighty years ago, Del was not the likeliest of candidates for legendary status. As a teen, he was captivated by the banjo playing of one of its masters, Earl Scruggs, and decided he’d be a banjo picker, too. The Baltimore/Washington, D.C. bar scene of the early 1960s was lively and rough. Del caught a break. More than a break, really. It was an opportunity of a lifetime; joining Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in early 1963. Considered the Father of Bluegrass, Monroe transformed McCoury, moving him from the banjo to guitar, anointing him lead singer, and providing him with a priceless trove of bluegrass tutelage direct from the source.
Now helming the Del McCoury Band, with sons Ronnie and Rob, the ensemble did and continues to represent a larger, growing musical community as a peerless torchbearer for the entire sweep and scope of bluegrass history. Those many years, not to mention a good-natured willingness to stay alert to the latest sounds and opportunities around him, earned McCoury a whole new generation of fans, including in some unlikely places.
The group traveled with the groundbreaking post-O Brother “Down From The Mountain” tour, and performed with Gill, recording on his Grammy-winning These Days, as well as country sensation Dierks Bentley. In addition to becoming something of a regular at the wildly popular Bonnaroo Music Festival, they’ve also curated and expanded Del’s annual namesake festival. One of the premier string-band events in the country, the multi-day, multi-stage DelFest showcases the new lions of the genre such as Greensky Bluegrass, The Avett Brothers, and Old Crow Medicine Show, and legends like Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, and Bobby Osborne, plus a diversity of artists like Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, actor Steve Martin, and blues-rock veterans Gov’t Mule to Americana darlings The Wood Brothers and Rhiannon Giddens.
Almost unimaginable, McCoury’s fifth decade in a half-century of bluegrass bliss brings new triumphs, new collaborations, and new music. With but a single change in membership in twenty years The Del McCoury Band shows unprecedented stability as well as garnering the respect and admiration of the industry for its unmistakable work: nine IBMA Entertainer of the Year trophies; in 2003, Del’s awarded membership in the cast of the legendary Grand Ole Opry; the band’s first Best Bluegrass Album Grammy award, in ’05, followed by a second Grammy win in 2014, (not to mention double-digit nominations).
And like any genuine treasure, the gifts keep coming. On their latest release, Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass- a title that echoes his 1968 debut on Arhoolie Records, Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass- Del and the boys bring home another stellar collection of traditional bluegrass music. One listen and it’s clear as crystal. There is Del.
For more information, please visit http://www.delmccouryband.com/
On tour (full listing at http://www.delmccouryband.com/