Bluegrass gets ragged treatment, as acts are shot unimaginatively with abrupt cuts, and homevideo footage is used to tout the genre. But the glories of the music do get a hearing, hinting at what a production this might have been.
Introductions are sometimes sloppy, and even International Bluegrass Music Assn. exec director Dan Hayes finds his speech chopped into. Careless editing throughout the hour serves to confuse the docu’s mix. First tune out of the chute — Peter Rowan and Hazel Dickens singing “Shall We Gather at the River”– suggests how sweet it can be.
Yet the energy, the history and the harmony sing out, and the tributes, like those to Bill Monroe — whose bluegrass band established the style right after World War II (in his 80s, he’s still writing tunes) — suggest the variation on C&W will endure forever.
The bonhomie among participants establishes the style; the sentiment, the high-pitched vocals and the tempo secure the movement’s singular identity. Rowan and the Nashville Bluegrass Band do a bang-up job on “Lonesome Sound” and wind up the program with a lovely “Father I Stretch My Hand to Thee.”
The Johnson Mountain Boys go to town on “On the Job Too Long,” while Mac Wiseman solos on the sweet “Sweet to Be Remembered.”
Proof of the assured future of bluegrass comes when the Bluegrass Youth All-Stars, intro’d by IBMA prez Peter Wernick, twang out Monroe’s “Wheel Hoss.” Del McCoury and band demonstrate authentic bluegrass style with McCoury’s own “I Feel the Blues Moving In.’
Tim O’Brien, IBMA’s 1993 male vocalist of the year, and McCoury duo on Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” which fits admirably into the thrust.
Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Special Consensus, Dan Crary and Michael Cleveland are among those who perform; the fiddles, mandolins, basses, guitars, acoustic or not, all pound home the tunes’ messages.
Performances are pro and vigorous, even if the production isn’t. Camera work is static, production values are poor.