The song of the month is 'Blue Ridge Cabin Home' in the key of Bb. I'll be at the intermediate jam this coming Wednesday (Nov. 9) to lead it
Blue Ridge Cabin Home was originally recorded by Flatt & Scruggs, but in many Bluegrass circles, the Bluegrass Album Band (Tony Rice - guitar, vocals; J.D. Crowe - banjo, vocals; Doyle Lawson - mandolin, vocals; Bobby Hicks - fiddle; Todd Phillips - bass) version of Blue Ridge Cabin Home, released in 1981, has replaced the Flatt & Scruggs version as the primary point of reference for the song.
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - The Bluegrass Album Band - key of Bb
To fine-tune one's playing and/or to take one's playing to the next level, I believe that there is much to be said for critical listening, and spending some of one's practice time focusing on observing and attempting to copy the nuances found on high quality standard bluegrass recordings of common jam songs.
Coming from this perspective, here are some suggestions I would like to throw out there regarding the Bluegrass Album Band recording of our song of the month.
Listen to the recording a few times, listening first for the tempo, feel/groove, and overall rhythmic pulse of the song. Pay attention to where each of the instruments and the vocals are sitting in the mix (i.e., relative loudness) at various times within the song, and where they sit relative to the beat. Also notice the tone of the instruments and vocals.
Play along with the recording (without slowing it down). Crank it up good and loud, so you can clearly hear it above your playing, without having to restrain yourself from digging into your instrument. Sing along with it also, being careful to copy the phrasing of the lyrics as closely as you can. Make sure to allow your playing to be influenced by the recording as you play along with it. Here I have in mind not so much your choices of notes, but the manner and energy with which you play your notes.
Finally, turn the recording off, and play the song by yourself, seeing if you can still channel the same overall feel in your playing that you were able to achieve when you were under the direct influence of the record in listening to it and playing along with it several times over.
Some specifics worthwhile observing on the recording:
1) The pickup measure, together with the first few notes that come after it, played by the banjo at the very beginning of the song, with attention not so much to the choice of notes being played, but rather to how the notes are being played: timing, tone, attack, degree of sustain, etc.
2) How the band as a whole sounds together with the banjo when the band first starts playing after the pickup measure.
3) The melody-based nature of the banjo intro break.
4) How the banjo and the fiddle take turns being the dominant/featured backup instrument during the vocal parts of the song, and the types of licks that they use when being featured versus when not being featured.
5) Where the instruments overall sit in the mix on the choruses, and how this differs from where they sit in the mix on the verses.
6) What the guitar does during the verses and choruses when there is a pause in the vocals
7) Which parts of the fiddle, guitar, and second banjo breaks are melody-based, and what types of licks are being played in the non-melody based parts of these breaks.
8) What the banjo does at the end of the guitar break right before the last chorus starts.
9) How the band as a whole sounds in ending the song (the last 2 measures).
Other things worthwhile taking the time to do: listen to the recording all the way through with your attention focused on the chop rhythm on the mandolin; listen to the recording all the way through with your attention focused on the bass.
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - banjo tab
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - guitar tab
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - mandolin tab
Blue Ridge Cabin Home - melody in Bb
Jason's Intermediate Jam Blog