The 5 Most Collaborative Collabs of the Most Collaborative Music: Bluegrass

Bluegrass is inherently collaborative. Rooted in folk music, the genre relies on standards that have been covered countless times over the years. It makes sense that some of the best bluegrass albums are collaborations. These feature both traditional and original tunes, vocals and instrumentals. But their true appeal? Amazing musicians coming together as one. 

Videos by American Songwriter

1. Raising Sand Alison Krauss & Robert Plant (2007)

Led Zeppelin and bluegrass don’t exactly go together. But in 2007, former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant teamed up with bluegrass queen Alison Krauss. Their album, Raising Sand, made waves across the music industry. A work of unique musical elements and stunning vocal performances, the album snagged five Grammy Awards and thus made history as the unlikely pairing worked to perfection. The result was easily one of the best modern bluegrass/folk albums of the century.

[RELATED: How Did Robert Plant and Alison Krauss Meet?]

2. Rare Bird AlertSteep Canyon Rangers (2012)

You might not have heard of Steep Canyon Rangers. But you’re definitely familiar with their banjo player—at least if you’re a fan of 1970s Saturday Night Live, quirky 1980s comedies like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Roxanne, or 1990s family comedies like Father of the Bride.

Actor Steve Martin, a talented banjo player, joined the SCR lineup in 2009 and toured with the group until 2017. During his time with the band, they received a Grammy nomination for their album Rare Bird Alert. Martin composed most of the songs on the album, including “King Tut,” which he’d first written in 1978. The album also featured guest vocals from the Chicks and Paul McCartney, making it a treasure trove of bluegrass/country/pop titans. 

3. Blake & Rice — Norman Blake & Tony Rice (1987)

Norman Blake and Tony Rice are both legendary bluegrass guitarists. They teamed up for two collaborative albums, once in 1987 and once in 1990. The result is instrumental perfection. Blake & Rice features both original songs and bluegrass standards, performed in expert flatpicking style. It’s definitely for the discerning listener and/or the true bluegrass enthusiast. The album oscillates between frantic energy and long, dreamy instrumental explorations. And if you love the first album, the second one is great, too, and features a guest appearance by bluegrass luminary Doc Watson. 

4. The Telluride Sessions — Strength in Numbers (1989)

The Telluride Sessions is a massive collaborative effort recorded in 1989. A collection of progressive bluegrass instrumental pieces, it features legendary artists like Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor, Jerry Douglas, and Béla Fleck. The introspective album explores modern bluegrass and its connections to jazz, classical, and folk music. Every bluegrass fan needs to listen, particularly considering the people involved in making it. 

5. “I Saw the Light” — Nitty Gritty Dirt Band feat. Roy Acuff & Earl Scruggs (1972)

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band rocked the boat a bit in 1972 when they recorded the collaborative album Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Their goal was to unite the old and new generations of bluegrass music, who had until then existed rather uneasily alongside one another. The all-important work features musicians like Merle Travis, Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, and many others. A particular album standout is “I Saw the Light,” which features Earl Scruggs on banjo and Acuff on lead vocals (and it was penned by the late country great Hank Williams). 

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Caleb Lee Hutchinson on ‘American Idol’ & New Album ‘Southern Galactic’