Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, June 2005. Used with permission.

Appalachian Picking Society

Windham Hill 82876 64198 2

First the good news. Appalachian Picking Society from Windham Hill Records and BMG is pretty much perfect. It’s flawlessly played and gorgeously, if sparsely, recorded. Yep, absolutely, technically perfect in every by-the-book, measurable way. Just like elevator music — totally devoid of soul or feeling.

This is bluegrass music for people who don’t like bluegrass music, so it’ll probably sell boatloads of copies. I don’t quite know where the magazine should even place the review. It’s not bluegrass — there is nothing blue about it, and there’s certainly no ‘grass. It doesn’t belong On The Edge because there are no edges to the music at all, only a smooth, dull finish. The songs are played so close to the vest that it has a “101 Strings Play Appalachian Favorites” flavor, not the fiery character we associate with players like Tim O’Brien, Bryan Sutton and Chris Thile.

There are a few familiar songs between the stuffy hammered-dulcimer “interludes” — notably Shady Grove featuring Bryan Sutton and Down in the Willow [sic] from Dan Tyminski. The pretentious liner notes lead one to believe that the songs are might be some interesting collaborations but fail to even credit the accompanying musicians.

This is the kind of music you might hear playing in the background at your favorite big-chain bookstore or coffee “shoppe.” Maybe it’s destined to be the soundtrack for the next Ken Burns PBS series. But it presents music we love in the worst possible way — as a stuffy museum piece, preserved like a sample under a microscope. Somewhere out there, I imagine a vampire listening to Appalachian Picking Society and tapping his foot, happily at one with pretty music that has had the life completely sucked out of it.

Manufactured and distributed by BMG Distribution, a unit of BMG Music, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036

Archie Warnock, [email]

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