Various Artists

Knee Deep in Bluegrass: The AcuTab Sessions

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AcuTab is a company that publishes music transcription books of many of contemporary bluegrass' most well-known and popular artists. Rebel Records' 2000 release Knee Deep in Bluegrass: The AcuTab Sessions pulled together some of the top names in bluegrass who are actively writing and recording music to record 14 tracks of both new and old pickin' tunes, all of which can be found in AcuTab's library. The list of performers reads like a list of International Bluegrass Music Association award nominees (and, in fact, they claim more than 65 IBMA awards combined) including Rob Ickes, Barry Bales, Alan Bibey, Ronnie Bowman, Mark Newton, Sammy Shelor, Ron Stewart, Tony Trischka, Dan Tyminski, and producer Tim Stafford just to name a few. The songs range from large ensemble numbers to gentle and sparse instrumentals, each of which are immaculately performed, with nary an errant note to be heard. Unfortunately due to a combination of several things (the unfamiliar group environment, the exactness of the recorded material, and the fact that the whole idea comes from a company that wants to teach people how to play bluegrass) the album comes off sounding a bit stiff and clinical. While the playing is spotless, the whole thing feels as though the performers may in fact be reading the music directly from AcuTab's instruction books. In it's own defense, the album did win the IBMA award for instrumental album of the year (despite the fact that there are several vocal tracks on the CD), and that alone is a testament to the fact that it should be recognized for what it is: a fine, well produced, superbly performed collection of both old and new bluegrass songs. Those who enjoy sunny and clean contemporary bluegrass will certainly enjoy Knee Deep in Bluegrass, but those who are looking for a strong group dynamic to accompany the excellent picking will be better off looking elsewhere.

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