What was I saying about throwing away the box?
“Break the box your music comes in.” Missy Raines
The English language is a funny and complex creature. One word can mean more than one thing. Take the word ‘hip’. When you read the word ‘hip’ in a band’s name the jump is made to think of cool, suave, current, fashionable, sophisticated and so forth. And such was my assumption, as well, until I spent an afternoon in East Nashville talking to an amazing woman by name of Missy Raines.
Putting aside her award winning talents, she has another ‘super power’; the ability to continue to smile and to love life regardless of what, it, life, hurls at her. Slipping it into our conversion that afternoon like it was just one more detail on her bio, she quickly explained that she’d had defective hip since birth, as in part of the pelvis structure, and she had somewhat recently had that hip replaced. She said, “and hence the name ‘New Hip’.” pointing to her hip. Taking a minute to recover from a blip of laughter and some embarrassment, I said, “I thought it was because of the ‘babies’ in the band and how ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ you all sounded.” She answered with a radiant smile, “Well yeah that too…”
Missy Raines and her band –the New Hip—have set out to continue the exploration of the frontier where music worlds bend and fold and morph into something new. They have brought jazz, pop, folk and even funk into the bluegrass world in a truly newgrass way.
Anybody could point to Bela Fleck and say he’s already done that but in truth he hasn’t quite mastered the art of funk. The number one requirement for funk is the bass line. Who better than Missy Raines to provide that bass line? She has won the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) for bassist of the year seven times. She is among the upper elite of award winning instrumentalist, especially in her field. Brance Gillihan of the Bluegrass Blog once asked, ‘Why would a bass player front a band?’ That’s a rhetorical question right? Johnny Thompson of Farm-Out Records commented recently that, “the make-or-break nature of the bass’s role in music makes it one of the world’s hardest instruments to play.” Curtis Burch (aka Dr, Dobro) backed him up by adding, “Your right. Every producer I’ve worked with all over the country including Elton John’s says the bass is the most important instrument in a band. It does make or break any band! And some bands don’t have a drummer but have a bass.”
Missy Raines and the New Hip have both. Taking up the challenge of playing drums to Missy’s bass is Robert Crawford. Robert Crawford alone shines his own star. A musician’s choice over and over again, Crawford brings as many accomplishments in jazz as Missy does in Bluegrass. Together there is no sound they cannot lay down with the ease and grace of a hawk in flight.
Missy Raines has performed with the likes of Jim Hurst, Claire Lynch, Josh Graves, Sam Bush,John Cowan, Jesse McReynolds, and countless more. In fact, it was John Cowan who in specific asked Missy to bring her band to this year’s (2010) International Newgrass Festival. No doubt she’ll find a receptive audience in South Central Kentucky as funk seems to be a prominent favorite with acts like Felonious Funk, Swamp Funk Society, Fat Box, Vern Willis, and Canagopacking houses in the area.
Rob Crawford’s ‘mastery’ can be heard with the likes of Dave Isaacs, James Newton, Marcus Belgrave, Gary Bartz, and Dave Morgan. Now he brings his incredible talent to the New Hip, the Newgrass genre, and the International Newgrass Festival.
Yet another definition of the word ‘hip’ is the fleshy false fruit of the rose, containing the achene’s or true fruits. False fruit indeed, which would imply that Missy Raines is the mere petals of a rose and yet they, the New Hip, do give so much to the bloom that perhaps there, is some truth in that definition.
Todd Livingston, playing the Dobro & the lap steel guitar, has been described as “(Todd is) a red-haired lazy Buddhist smart-ass who loves all music, good and bad.” Most often associated with his band Hit & Run Bluegrass, he’s also played with the likes of Jerry Douglas and Jim Lauderdale. Any fan of the Dobro is no doubt thrilled to have Livingston and Curtis Burch on the same stage for the INGF in August.
Adding to the hopeful possibilities of a duet in August is mandolin/guitar player Ethan Ballinger. Like a parallel to New Grass Revival, Ballinger is better known for his work on the mandolin but is equally comfortable on a variety of guitars, which what he usually plays in the New Hip. Be it Sam Bush, Sierra Hull or Josh Britt, that strikes up that duet, Ethan’s own skill will no doubt glisten as bright as the company he’ll be with on that stage in Oakland, KY. Butch Baldassari spoke of this youngster with the best reverence when he wrote, “Ethan Ballinger is one of the brightest lights I have seen on the mandolin horizon in quite some time. This winter he will be completing his studies at Belmont University in Nashville …Ethan can play all the styles from Bluegrass to Classical. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for him.” Coming from Belmont, I have to wonder if Ethan was one the kids crammed inside fellow Belmont alumni Zach Bevill’s (Farewell Drifters) dorm room. By the way, the Farewell Drifter’s first two albums were engineered and co-produced by Missy’s husband, Ben Surrattwho is well known and highly respected in the industry for his work on hundreds of albums.
( Dominic Leslie is no longer with the band, but is loved and revered.)
Fleshing out the extraordinary line-up of the New Hip is the young mandolin near- virtuoso of Dominic Leslie. Practically a musician since birth, it reads on his MySpace page that, “The same year he was potty-trained, he acquired a ukulele tuned like the bottom four strings of a guitar.” Currently he is enrolled at Berklee School of Music in Boston, and has attended the Mandolin Symposium at the University Of Santa Cruz since inception in 2004. Along with being a part of the New Hip, he is a member of the Grant Gordy Quartet.
The New Hip and that ‘fusion’ of musical genres has been a long time dream of Missy Raines. Interested in music at a very young age, but unsure about a direction or ‘a sound’ as Missy called it, Missy’s mother made the effort to take Missy to music festivals and shows until they found a sound that actually suited them both. That moment came for them both sitting on a grassy hill in Virginia watching none other than the Bluegrass Alliance play. Strongly inspired by The New Grass Revival, she said playing the International NewGrass Festival is like a homecoming and considers Bowling Green a ‘local gig’ and the “greatest honor to be at this festival.”
Perhaps that’s the key to Missy Raines strength and perseverance and astounding resilience. For when you use the word ‘homecoming’ it implies friends and family. I looked across the table that afternoon at a woman who is only mere months older than me. She had recounted some of her family history and though she has lost so much more than myself and has won harder battles, her smile comes to her face much quicker and more radiant than my own. I told her about interviewing Curtis Burch and recounted the story of Curtis leaving NGR and all the emotions that had gone with his decision. So I asked if she had ever had a time when she had wanted to quit music. She smiled, raised her eyebrows and softly said, “Never.” She talked around a time in her life she called a “dark time” but she said she’s never been tired of making music. I asked how much that influenced her writing, both the melody & the lyrics. She sat back in her chair for moment and then leaned forward again, as if to examine her own work in her mind. “I would say that you’ll hear that more on this new record more than in the past.”
Perhaps the other amazing characteristic I found in Missy Raines was her attitude towards her band members. It’s not uncommon by any means for band members to change up, but it is a bit unusual for it to be a positive thing, for the band or the artist leaving. At the time of the interview the band members listed on her web-site weren’t the artists that were currently in ‘The New Hip’. I asked about how she decided on or found new band members and she answered with things like ‘word of mouth’ and ‘the grapevine’ and ‘friends’. She added without prompt that the members of the New Hip have always changed for the better, not just for her band but the musician leaving as well. “They’ve grown and learned all they can from the experience and it’s just time for them to move on.” Not one unkind or discouraging word did she have to say about any former band-mate, which in the countless interviews I’ve enjoyed I’ve heard some not so nice things about former band-mates more often than not.
So be it cool or fruity or supportive Missy Raines’ New Hip is all that and then some. No doubt the discoveries they will make on that new frontier will be stellar.
You can find out more about Missy Raines & the New Hip from the website: http://missyraines.com/or join them on FaceBook & Twitter.
Originally published in my home publication as part of a series leading up to the 2010 International Newgrass Festival in the Amplifier. http://www.bgdailynews.com/amplifier/