Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito
Well, it took long enough. After over 12 years of touring and recording all over the US and points beyond, Two High String Band had come to a crossroads. By 2008 the trio, mandolinist Billy Bright, and guitarists Geoff Union and Brian Smith had felt they had traveled just about every musical path they could with their instrumentation, presenting themselves as everything from a traditional acoustic setting dressed in sharp suits all the way to a full on Rock-grass band with electric guitars and full drum kit. After so many miles logged, so many line up change ups and stylistic outings, the three had successfully carved out a niche for themselves as purveyors of their own unique brand of "easy going Bluegrass and old time County infused string music." But ultimately something was missing. It all came to a head at a rehearsal one day when guitarist Brian Smith, and sometime drummer for the trio, said aloud what they all had been thinking for sometime. "Look," he exclaimed setting down his drumsticks, "all I really ever wanted to do in this band is sing and play Bluegrass." "That's all fine and well," said his compatriots, "but we'll need to find real bluegrass pickers to do it." It was bluegrass that brought them together in the first place, but as of yet they hadn't actually pursued it. For years they worked on the edges of the traditional form, playing everything BUT bluegrass simply because of their available instrumentation. If THSB was going to continue at all, they determined, they would do so with the music that inspired them to play together in the first place. The search was on for top-flight musicians, a "dream team" of seasoned Texas bluegrass players. It was not as hard as they first imagined. Texas, at first blush, may not have the deep tradition of Bluegrass music as Tennessee and parts south. But what Texas does have is genuine bluegrass banjo legend Alan Munde. And as fate would have it, the former Country Gazette founder and Jimmy Martin band member had just recently "retired" to a ranch right down the road from Billy. Responding to a friendly email inquiry, Alan noted that after retiring from teaching banjo 20 years at South Plains College, he had "plenty of time now" to come pick. Presented with the THSB's original tunes and well-chosen classic numbers, it wasn't too long before he signed on as a full time member. Giddy and somewhat shocked to have their favorite banjo man in the band, they then hopefully reached out to their favorite fiddler. Fiddler/composer/force of nature Erik Hokkanen has long been a local legend on the Austin music scene, known for his incendiary playing and being the 'finest musician you've never heard of." What few people know is that he cut his teeth playing bluegrass as a young man in his native Florida, placing him squarely in the tradition of the great bluegrass fiddlers of that state like Chubby Wise and Vassar Clements. Besides some recording stints with alternative bluegrass pioneers the Bad Livers, Erik hadn't played much bluegrass. But when approached by the boys, he jumped at the opportunity to revisit the music of his upbringing. That left only the bass spot open. Bluegrass bass is an oft-misunderstood craft. Deceptively simple to the casual listener, but vitally important to the "drive" traditional bluegrass is known for. And few bassists playing today have the drive of Mark Rubin. Billy had been playing pick up gigs around Austin and frequently found himself onstage with the Bad Livers bassist-founder. Now semi-retired, Rubin runs a violin shop, plays locally with ethnic dance bands and tours frequently on the international Jewish "klezmer" music scene. But recent performances with mandolin legend Andy Statman had reawakened his bluegrass roots. "Nobody plays old school bluegrass bass like Mark," says Bright. A chance to play with one of his heroes sealed his involvement; "When I was 13 years old back in Oklahoma, Alan Munde gave me my first banjo lesson. He doesn't remember it, but I'll never forget it." Rubin is a fine singer as well, bringing a trio vocal sound to the band. These six musicians found themselves together for the first time in a studio in the Texas Hill Country. In a single magical evening they recorded the lions share of "Hot Texas Bluegrass Burrito" playing live with no overdubs. A new Two High String Band is born. In a world filled with every kind of imaginable "-grass" derivatives working today, please file THSB under "Bluegrass." "Billy Bright and Brian Smith both sing ably without ever sounding like slaves to Bill Monroe" -Austin Chronicle "The playing and singing are impeccable" -Bluegrass Unlimited "The common thread is the spectacular picking throughout" -SingOut! It was an abiding love for ole good bluegrass music that brought Two High String Band together. It kept them going. It tore them apart. And now it has put them back together again. It's been a twelve year long journey, marked by hard work, luck and a little serendipity, that has culminated in their most impressive lineup yet. Mandolinist Billy Bright (Peter Rowan/Tony Rice) and guitarists/singers Brian Smith and Geoff Union are joined by the legendary Alan Munde (Country Gazette, Jimmy Martin, Flying Burrito Brothers) on banjo, Erik Hokkanen (Junior Brown) on fiddle, and Mark Rubin (Bad Livers) on Upright Bass.