The pop music world paid precious little attention even to country music once the country-pop craze ended during the early '80s, so it's certainly fair to say that there was essentially no place for bluegrass music in most mainstream '80s music conversations. Nevertheless, the highly talented progressive bluegrass quartet New Grass Revival came as close to breaking down such boundaries as any artist stationed squarely outside the circle of general pop/rock.
A key but underrated member of the band - joining three now-legendary figures of the bluegrass community (John Cowan, Sam Bush and Bela Fleck)- was guitarist Pat Flynn, who also happened to be the sole composer of "Sweet Release" as well as more than a few other NGR songs of the '80s. Still, the most compelling individual on this 1986 track, for me, remains lead vocalist Cowan, whose uncanny ability to stretch and merge genres would easily allow him to be a successful singer in styles ranging from contemporary country, Americana, arena rock and possibly even hair metal. Boasting a high tenor capable of reaching great heights in terms of passion, presence and pitch, Cowan scores here particularly because instrumental wizards Fleck and Bush recede into the background a bit to allow the song itself to shine. This may not be the most exciting or edgy New Grass Revival tune of that band's two-decade career, but it's certainly one of the ones that could have worked well for general audiences, thereby opening the door for bluegrass to make a bigger impact on the '80s music landscape.
- Sample or download "Sweet Release" here.
- Compare prices on New Grass Revival CDs here.
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Album Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Capitol