Calling All Hipsters

There are few sounds as compelling in the world as the thick, warm grooviness of a really nice double bass, and it’s a pity that those who play this demanding instrument are often hidden there in the back of the band in a support role. But fans of jazz especially know never to underestimate the bass player. After all, some of the finest composers and bandleaders of all time – like my boys Charles Mingus and Dave Holland – were/are bass players. And this week at Roots, we’ll be hearing from an extraordinary bass player who earned her reputation in bluegrass but who as a bandleader has exploded the genre barriers and offered us a striking new acoustic sound.

Her name is Missy Raines, and if you follow the picking world, you may know she owned the IBMA bass player of the year award for a while, picking up seven trophies between 1998 and 2007. Since she started her career playing with greats like Eddie Adcock and Claire Lynch, she’s been interested in forming a nimble, improvisatory band, and now she has one called The New Hip. This is both a funny little riff on the famous album title Birth of the Cool that symbolized Miles Davis and the California-driven jazz trend of the 1950s, as well as a funny little riff on Missy’s own miraculous prosthetic that made it a hell of a lot easier for her to walk, play her stand-up instrument and insist to friends that she is part cyborg.

Missy says she consciously reached out to players a generation younger than she is for a few reasons. One is that they were less likely to be enmeshed in other working bands. The other is that they think and play more freely. So she and her young prodigies hit the studio and came up with one of the coolest albums of 2009, Inside Out on the Compass label. From the first gut-stirring (low) notes, it’s a fun, sophisticated and dynamically involving piece of work. And though it’s mostly an instrumental album that fuses grass, jazz and funk, Missy shows her skill at picking and singing songs with a few beautifully rendered songs from the underappreciated Ed Snodderly. Get a copy of this for yourself and then one for your Mom and Dad. Tell them to put it on for a Sunday morning and see if they don’t thank you.

The rest of the night promises to be a lot more rustic, rambling, shambling and rocking. Frontier Ruckus is a quartet from Detroit that’s steeped in Southern folk music. Rolling Stone calls them “gothic Americana” but that might make them sound darker than they are. Oh one of the guys plays the saw. We’ll also be hearing from Stonehoney, an Austin band of more electrified twang that the Austin American Statesman said this summer could be the best country rock band in the Texas capitol. And that’s saying something. And the Howling Brothers also seem to rely heavily on the acoustic bass, of the slappy-thumpy variety.

So come pay us a visit at the barn and you too will have more friends with low basses.

Craig H