Few musical genres express such a range as bluegrass. Maybe only the blues go deeper into human sorrow. But I can’t think of another style that gets human joy quite spot on.
If you have some minutes today, check the sheer exuberance behind the bluegrass virtuosity of Sierra Hull’s “Bombshell.” The studio version is here. I find the live version amazing, taking the tempo up just a little bit more. You get something of the spunk of the bandleader. She’s focused on the music like it’s the last thing in the world, but the piece is so fun (like around the 2:43 mark) she can’t hold it in.
Bluegrass solo work in the best bands is always top-notch musicianship first, and not jamming for the sake of it. I timed Ms Hull’s studio solo at 15 seconds. It’s her tune, of course, so she gets to state the melody coming in and going out. But a quarter-minute of elaboration is just right and she gets out of the way and lets her guitarist and violinist interpret too.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across this “long” version of the same tune. While I think there’s great merit in composing and performing a “bombshell” of joy in just under 200 seconds, I’m also fascinated with the extension of music, especially popular music, into a longer format.
I hope it’s not just about wanting to milk more minutes of inspiration from a good piece. I’m also impressed that the youthful drive to play a piece faster and faster has been circumvented in that long version. It shows the versatility of a standard bluegrass ensemble. In the right hands, I certainly think it matches the range of a standard string quartet or a jazz quintet.