The brother and sister who embraced bluegrass as elementary school children in New England have such a solid, signature sound ” in the style of their idols including Bill Monroe and Ricky Skaggs ” that it feels as if they have always been part of the bluegrass community. Perhaps that’s because the music of the reigning Inspirational Country Music Bluegrass Artists of the Year is a true staple on radio, in concerts, and during high-profile events including the PBS television special Pa’s Fiddle and on such television shows as Fox & Friends.
Now Elaine and Lee Roy are again candidates for nominations in ICM award categories ” this time for Entertainers of the Year, Vocal Duo, and Inspirational Bluegrass Artist. As if that isn’t enough, the duo are ready to release their next recording this month. Elaine Roy took time out of her hectic schedule to chat about the duo’s music, album, and fans.
OS: New Day Dawning is a great title for your album. How did you come up with that title?
ER: I don’t even know who came up with the idea. We started talking and somebody said “New Day Dawning” and we wanted to write it as a song. There’s such negativity in the world so when it came time to name the album we thought it was the perfect title of the album.
OS: Well, I have to ask if it also signifies a new day or turning point for The Roys.
ER: We hope it’s a turning point! We’ve struggled long and hard to get where we are today. We are really grateful for all that has happened to us and we look forward to a new day dawning and great things ahead.
OS: Now this recording isn’t a full album. Why is that?
ER: Right, it’s seven tracks. I think for us it was trying to turn out more music quicker for the fans. When you record a complete album, that’s a very long process. We just wanted to get music out there for our fans.
It’s difficult to imagine a more poignant moment than when Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder played a moving rendition of “You Can’t Shake Jesus,” at the recent FloydFest in southern Virginia.
Although the 15,000-plus fans that packed each of the four days of the festival heard from a top-flight roster of artists including Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, the Punch Brothers, Jackson Browne, and others, it was Skaggs’ virtuoso playing and heartfelt vocals that enticed concertgoers to stand in the searing sun and cheer, even as FloydFest wound down. Although Skaggs also teamed up with Bruce Hornsby for some power-packed songs, it’s difficult to imagine anything more lovely than the set Skaggs and his band played before meeting and greeting fans.
“It’s the most unusual gospel record I’ve ever done,” Skaggs told the crowd about Mosaic, the album from which “You Can’t Shake Jesus” was taken. “It’s not bluegrass and it’s not country, but you’ll like it. It’s good.”
Anyone wanting to sum up Skaggs’ career and appeal could likely turn to that line for reference. After making a name for himself as a major country star, he moved to bluegrass and even dabbled in other formats with special interest in gospel and Christian-themed songs. The result included 24 singles on Billboard’s Top 20, including 12 at #1 and an array of awards and honors, including 14 GRAMMY Awards, eight CMA Awards (including Entertainer of the Year), eight ACM Awards, two Dove Awards and nine ICM (Inspirational Country Music) Awards.
The headliners at this year’s FloydFest”including Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs, Brandi Carlile, and the Drive-By Truckers”were as amazing as you’d expect from internationally known and much-lauded musicians. But the real treat at the 11th Annual FloydFest, a four-day world music festival in Floyd, Virg., was arguably the array of up-and-coming artists certain to burst into prominence not too far into the future.
Amber Rubarth was clearly at the front of that line. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider she’s a fixture on New York’s indie scene and has won such accolades as the Grand Prize in NPR’s Mountain Stage New Song Contest. Her recent album A Common Case of Disappearing, which features duets with Jason Reeves and Jason Mraz, debuted at No. 13 on iTunes. Watching her spin her musical web of alt-country, folk tunes on various stages at FloydFest, one couldn’t help but be struck by her poise and warmth, which translated into her music.
“I was really shy growing up,” said Amberth when discussing her set. “Music gave me the outlet to be able to get out my feelings and get out things I wanted to say that were more personal, even if I couldn’t say it in a conversation. It’s really powerful for me. It’s a way of healing, releasing, really.”
Those feelings translated to the audience, too, when Rubarth joined the Ivy League Hillbillies set that had nine up-and-coming musicians on stage and when she played her own sets”including a brand new song “The Maiden and the Ram,” that got the audience dancing.
Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Ricky Skaggs and Phil Vassar are just some of the country stars that are ready to brighten your holidays with their down-home music. Sure, you’re overwhelmed with all kinds of lists”shopping and otherwise”during this season but take a look at the stellar line up of artists offering you holiday-themed country music and enjoy.
Think of American Idol alums Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina as melodic bookends of the holidays. McCreery, who performed in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, is also featured in the Disney Christmas Day parade that will be televised on ABC. Find out when it will be aired in your area by going to the Disney Web site. Lauren Alaina will join other artists on American Country New Year’s Eve at 11 p.m. on December 31 on FOX. Find out more about the show on this Web site.
The Roys may be the toast of bluegrass music, especially after having just won the prestigious Inspirational Bluegrass Artist of the Year award from the Inspirational Country Music Association, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their feet firmly on the ground.
The duo are hard at work writing for their next album, the follow up to the critically-acclaimed Lonesome Whistle that included the hot single “Coal Minin’ Man,” that went to No. 1 on Power Source’s Bluegrass Top 35 chart and HotDisc International Top 40 Chart.
They also recently announced that they will host the First Annual Christmas 4 Kids Celebrity Golf Tournament in April, soon after they return from their first ever Australian concert tour. The tournament is yet another facet of Christmas 4 Kids, that developed from the Christmas Caravan founded in 1982 by Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and the Oak Ridge Boys to help needy children over the holidays.
Siblings Elaine and Lee Roy took a few minutes to chat with OurStage about how they developed their passion for bluegrass, how they write such terrific songs and what their fans mean to them.
OS: Wow, you have had some year!
ER: We are very excited. In one year, our lives have changed a whole lot.
OS: How did you come to play bluegrass? I’m sure your high school friends were playing rock and pop, so that couldn’t have been cool.
LR: Our mom and dad listened to nothing but traditional country and bluegrass. Our grandpa was playing the fiddle and mandolin and banjo and our aunts and uncles played music all the time. We were around that so much, I remember, from the time we were really, really young. I can remember mom and dad playing Merle Haggard, George Jones, Bill Monroe. That’s what we were around, that’s what we listened to our whole lives.
For Vince Gill, the musical answer is to go home to bluegrass. Although he started his career in the genre and still truly loves it, he moved to mainstream country years ago. Now that he’s arguably starting a new chapter in his career, with the release of the album Guitar Slinger later this year, he’s taking pains to insure he doesn’t lose sight of his musical roots.
“Anybody who is thinking of a bluegrass career, I really wouldn’t recommend it,” said Gill with a laugh to a near-capacity concert audience at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia last month. “I stopped playing it because I had hoped to own my own home someday.”
It’s a good bet, though, that Gill’s comment was really more tongue-in-cheek than anything. Although the line brought a great amount of laughter from the audience, Gill said by telephone from the Nashville home that he shares with his wife, singer Amy Grant, that a healthy bank account is really only one of the reasons he loves his career.
“It has never been to a point where it was a drag or I didn’t feel it was a complete success even just factoring in the people I have played with,” said Gill. “Gosh, it has provided me with a better life than I could have ever dreamed for myself…and it has nothing to do with [money]… I truly love the music.”
Any doubters need only have sat in on this four-hour plus concert during which Gill played a host of classic bluegrass hits”including “My Rose of Old Kentucky,” and “My Walking Shoes”” and talked about career highlights including playing with bluegrass legends Ricky Skaggs and Del McCoury.
With such a background, it’s likely no surprise that the eleven songs on his newest album are richly textured, moving from contemporary to traditional and from somewhat light hearted to dark.
That’s especially true on the album’s first single “Threaten Me With Heaven,” that Gill co-wrote with Grant, Dillon O’Brian and Will Owsley. Since the song was written, Owsley committed suicide.
“The the song has a profound impact on me now,” said Gill, adding that the loss of Owsley and other close friends in the past few years has truly made him take stock of his life. “It’s a powerful, powerful song. I feel like it’s the crown jewel of the new record.”
Bright spots in the recording of the record were the duet he did with Grant and the guest appearances of three of the couple’s daughters”Jenny, Sarah and Corrina.
“It was really cool,” said Gill of having his family work with him in the studio he recently built at his home. “They all can’t help it. Music has a [very strong] place in their lives. Having them on this was very sweet.”
Find out more about Vince Gill and his upcoming album on his Web site.