Recommend some Bluegrass

after having “i am a man of constant sorrow” stuck in my head for days, i download some bluegrass music from and i gotta say, i love it. can anyone recommend some good bluegrass artists? i know nothing about the genre, but what i’ve heard so far i like.

so, any suggestions?

Hoo, boy…where should I start?

Well, you’ll hear some great bluegrass on any of The Best of Mountain Stage compilations. Those will introduce you to a pretty wide variety of artists.

Another good introduction is “Will the Circle be Unbroken” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. A lot of original bluegrass artists came out for that one and it’s a pretty good combination of the older traditional bluegrass with the newer stuff.

Do you want the real schtuff, or “Newgrass,” the bluegrass/rock/jazz/worldmusic hybrid that started cropping up in the 1970s and is still going strong today?

I got into bluegrass through newgrass…bands like the Grateful Dead and The Band and Goose Creek Symphony ladled quite a bit of bluegrass feeling into their music, which led me to the New Grass Revival (Sam Bush’s band) and Bela Fleck and David Grisman and Edgar Meyers and Jerry Douglas and such.

After my ears had expanded correctly I was able to enjoy the likes of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs, which would have sounded hopeessly “Grand Ole Opry” to me if I had tried to listen to them cold.

So my best advice is to ease into it in a similar fashion, especailly if you’re coming at it from the O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU soundtrack.

Bill Monroe. He “invented” the Bluegrass genre from the styles prevalent in his home region, around Rosine, Kentucky. This is an area of unique musical history.

To ease into bluegrass, I would recommend starting with newer Alison Krauss & Union Station and working your way back.

Doc Watson is awesome.

Del McCoury is another great one.

Ricky Skaggs is putting out some fine bluegrass these days. Earlier in his career he was mainstream country. However, he’s gone all bluegrass in the last few years.

old Country Gentlemen and Seldome Scene both with the late, great John Duffy. If you can listen to “Bringing Mary Home” and not get choked up, you are a stronger man than I.

Along with the above mentioned “classics” and the “standards”.

More classic performers:

Osbourne Brothers
Stanley Brothers
Little Jimmy Dickens
Grandpa Jones
Delmore Brothers
Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys

With all due respect, to those who recommend “easing into bluegrass”, I say, “How dast ye!”. If you wanna listen to bluegrass, then listen to bluegrass. If you’re meant to like it, the songs you hear will begin to grow on you soon enough. That said, I recommend the following:

Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys - “The High Lonesome Sound”: As previously mentioned, Bill Monroe was the first well known bluegrass artist, the genre’s name being taken from his band’s name. Features fine singing and playing all around, and Monroe’s fiery mandolin playing.

Flatt and Scrugggs - “Blue Ridge Cabin Home”: F&S were part of Bill Monroe’s band, but split with him and made many great sides during the fifties. This compilation is my favorite. Scruggs, of course, popularized a three-finger style of picking the banjo, emulated by many banjo players since. Also featured is the dobro playing of Josh Graves, and instrument first added and popularized by F&S.

Don Reno and Red Smiley - “20 Bluegrass Originals”: Reno was also a magnificent banjor player, but played in a more flashy style, influenced by the fact that he was also a fine guitarist. The songs feature Smiley as lead vocalist, with the beautiful high tenor voice and good humor supplied by Reno.

The Stanley Brothers - “Complete Columbia Recordings”: Ralph Stanley is of course on the “O Brother Where Art Thou” CD mentioned in the OP, but in the late forties up until his brother Carter died in the 1966, performed with him in a style somewhat close the Bill Monroe, but influenced more by the mountain songs of Appalachia where they grew up. Ralph’s banjo playing was straightforward and simple, but very powerful.

There are so many more, but the above will get you started. Without going into detail about the following, if you like the above, try these artists also.

Jimmy Martin
The Osborne Brothers
Jim and Jesse
J.D. Crowe and the New South
Del McCoury
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver
Skaggs and Rice

Thanks for starting this thread acconav, I also liked the Soggy Bottom Boys from the OBWAT soundtrack (and much of the other stuff on the album too), and I didn’t even realize that it was bluegrass.

Let me also recommend the Dillards. They played the Darling family on the old Andy griffith Show if that helps as a cultural touchstone. Granted, they were probably better in performance than on record, but a highly talented and enjoyable listen, nonetheless.

For my money, the best way for a newbie to approach bluegrass is to buy a couple of compilations and see what you like.

The best introductory compilations are:

  1. Hig Lonesome, which is a soundtrack to a bluegrass documentary.

  2. Appalachian Stomp: Bluegrass Classics; and

  3. Appalachian Stomp: More Bluegrass Classics
    As for particular artists, I favor Flatt and Scruggs, and would recommend The Essential Flatt & Scruggs: 'Tis Sweet to Be Remembered. Bill Monroe may have invented Bluegrass, but Flatt & Scruggs perfected it.

I will also second the recommendation of The Dillards, as well as the aforementioned Will the Circle Be Unbroken compilation, and The Stanley Brothers.

Heck, for that matter, you might want to pick up the High Lonesome documentary on VHS and learn a little about the history of the music.

I also want to put in a plug for Gillian Welch, who provided the vocals on some of the O Brother! recordings.

Finally, for additional historical perspective, try some of the music of The Carter Family. Their songs were the starting point for much of the bluegrass that came later. You may remember a cover of their “Keep on the Sunny Side” from the O Brother! soundtrack. Warning: The recording standards of these early songs are lower than what you would expect today. Consider this recording a history lesson.

thanks everybody! these are exactly the kind of responses i was hoping for.
guess i better start saving up for the truck load of cd’s i’ll be buying in the near future…

Anything by Old and in the Way is good stuff. Check out for some live mp3s

Bluegrass listener here starting about 1959. Never turned back.

Heck, I’m sitting here writing this, listening to The Best of the Country Gentleman for free right now!.

Click on

This is the free, on-line version of live streaming bluegrass from WAMU, Washington DC’s PBS station and the home of the best mix of old grass and new grass. You may have to download a free player, but that’s easy.

Right now, John Duffy is singing high tenor as The Seldom Scene is singing “I Know I Haven’t Got the Right to Love You.” It might not get much better than that. Well, it does.

WAMU plays this stuff continuously for free. No commercials. If you like the music, send them a donation. Send lots. I have, and I want this station to stay for free on the air. And all you other posters to this thread, send a donation.

At the risk of sounding like another “easing into bluegrass” guy (& I entirely agree, no need for that: start with Bill Monroe & the other founders of the music) I thought I’d put in a word for the decidedly unusual but effective collaboration between Steve Earle & the Del McCoury band, The Mountain. Earle’s grungy voice is completely opposite from the usual bluegrass style of vocals, & yet the album works wonderfully well.

For straight McCoury, you might try (from among his recent work) the great A Deeper Shade of Blue (Rounder, 1993). Unexpected song choices (mostly in a blues & country vein) given intense & compelling bluegrass performances.

thanks for the site samclem! i’m listening to it as i type this. i didn’t have to download anything either, it works with windows media player. perfect!

[mask on] Well, Tonto! Our mission here is done. Hi! Yo! Silver, away![/mask off]

Amazingly, nobody seems to have mentioned the soundtrack for “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?”…the music is excellent in itself, and the liner notes speak extensively about the artists featured, including titles of their recent albums.

Also consider Hot Rize and Blue Highway.

Some other really top-notch CDs are available through, the site of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival folks. They have some live compilations from some past shows. The “Rockygrass” CD is a particular favorite of mine.