What's weird about American Legacies, the new collaboration between bluegrass stalwarts Del McCoury Band and dixieland jazz legends Preservation Hall Jazz Band, is how not weird it is. "Is it jazz plus some strings, or bluegrass plus some brass?" you might ask, and the answer is "both" and "neither." What it certainly is is joyful; I get the constant impression that both bands must have had a hell of a lot of fun figuring out what tunes to play, figuring out how to arrange them, and just playing the hell out of them.
That's really the trick: some of this album must have been really finely arranged - fiddler Jason Carter trades licks with clarinetist (is that a word?) Charlie Gabriel on opener "The Band's In Town," the bluegrass instruments drop out for an explosive big band finish on "I'll Fly Away," mandolinist Ronnie McCoury throws bluegrass-style chops on the bluesy "Sugar Blues" - but throughout, it feels organic rather than orchestrated. The song selection is clever, largely upbeat mid-tempo tunes with enough space to play around in both the bluegrass and jazz idioms.
Both bands have made careers through the contradiction of simultaneously being very loyal to the traditional forms of their respective musical styles while being progressive and open-minded. It seems they've found kindred spirits. Even when they're playing tunes with sad lyrics, like "A Good Gal," "One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)," or "50/50 Chance," the joy is positively bursting out of the seams.
I'm sure there are fans of music who won't like this album. But I feel bad for those people. American Legacies is a triumph.
Del McCoury Band official site
Preservation Hall Jazz Band official site