Charlie Daniels – In the Pines
The songs, too, are largely drawn from Daniels’ formative years. “As far as I’m concerned,” he says, “they are the cream, the royalty of bluegrass gospel music.” Many are associated indelibly with Bill Monroe, from his own “The Old Crossroads”, to “What Would You Give (In Exchange For Your Soul)”, the first record by the Monroe Brothers, to “Walking In Jerusalem (Just Like John)”, which opens the album.
Earl Scruggs is on board for a reprise of Flatt & Scruggs’ “Preachin’, Prayin’, Singin'”, originally recorded around the time Daniels learned that D chord. Mac Wiseman, the Whites and the GrooveGrass Boyz — basically the Del McCoury Band minus Del — play prominent roles throughout the album.
Among the songs featuring Wiseman is “The Old Account” — the second time within a decade Wiseman has cut the song, and not by coincidence. He suggested it to Daniels; an earlier version that features Wiseman’s warm lead vocals appeared as a hidden track on a 1997 GrooveGrass Boyz album (and again as the second cut on 1998’s Mac, Doc & Del). Both albums were produced, as was Longleaf Pines, by Scott Rouse, a North Carolinian who detoured into pop and comedy production with the likes of New Kids On The Block and Jeff Foxworthy before connecting with hardcore bluegrassers such as McCoury and Blue Highway.
Rouse brought an innovative slant on sound and arrangement to the project, one that fit well with Daniels’ approach. “I’d go in the studio with the guys and say, ‘Hey, let’s try this, let’s try that.’ And it just worked out,” Daniels says. “Of course, we put a little ‘CD’ [Charlie Daniels] on it, you know. I can’t do something without doing that, it’s just natural for me to do it. It’s just the way I hear things — I hear them in certain arrangements and in certain ways, and I like trying new things.”
The result is that while the album rests on bluegrass bedrock, it’s rife with touches that distinguish it from the mainstream. There’s Daniels’ voice, of course — craggy and declamatory, it’s hardly compatible with traditional bluegrass vocalizing and tight harmonies. But beyond that, Rouse isn’t afraid to liven up the production with what, for bluegrass at least, are cutting-edge innovations: the sound is hot, dry and in your face, and when the instruments stop in the middle of a song, it sounds more like a digital snip than hands damping strings.
Yet though Rouse contributed significantly to the project, it’s very much a Charlie Daniels record. “It’s a little different, and that’s intentional,” he allows. “I did a cut a while ago for a compilation that one of the big companies did, and their A&R man called back and wanted to remix my song. I asked him why, and he said that it didn’t sound like everything else on the album. I said, ‘Do you know how hard I strive to keep from sounding like everybody else? You’re paying me a compliment. I don’t want to sound like everybody else.’
“That’s the way I like to operate. I work well with producers. If we’re doing a project and I get a guy to work with me producing, I work well, and I take his advice well, but I take direction, I don’t take dictation. And it’s not for any reason other than that I just feel like I know what I’m doing better than anybody else knows what I’m doing.”
Still, Daniels says, he appreciates the values of traditional bluegrass, and he’s not surprised that it has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity. “You know,” he notes, “there’s a whole new generation now that didn’t even know what bluegrass music was until that O Brother movie came out. It got to the point where radio stations were literally forced into playing ‘I’m A Man Of Constant Sorrow’. And people started hearing it and couldn’t get enough of it — it was something new, it was something fresh, it was something different. This bluegrass music is simple. It’s easy on the ears. It makes you want to snap your fingers. And there’s an honesty to it that very few other kinds of music have. There’s no pretension.
“It’s just straight-ahead — five or six guys wailing away. What is happening is what they’re creating right there at that moment. They’re not going to play it the same way next time. They’re not going to play it exactly like they did the last time they played it. There’s a simplicity and an honesty, a transparency that you don’t find in a lot of kinds of music. And I think people respond to that.”
At the same time, Daniels is hardly committing himself to staying in that vein, though he’s not averse to the idea of doing more bluegrass in the future. “It’s another facet of me,” he explains. “The next album that I’m planning on doing will be totally different from this — or from anything else we’ve done.
“I intend to spend the rest of my career doing what I want to do, simply because I’ve got a lot of different kinds of music in me that the world has never heard. It’s the time in my career that I just feel that, if I’m ever going to explore these other facets that I feel within myself, I’ve got to do it now. I may go back and do another bluegrass album one of these days. I may just do a straight bluegrass album — I don’t know. Whatever feels good is what I want to do. I don’t have another thirty years to think about it, so it’s time to get it on now.”
ND contributing editor Jon Weisberger is a bass player, songwriter and journalist who recently relocated to Madison, Tennessee, where he lives just up the street from John Hartford’s old house.