pickin' is the universal language

Long Journey Home: A Collection of Bluegrass from Around the World (Rounder)
Various Artists '

By John Goodin

The International Bluegrass Music Association has issued this neat collection of songs performed by bluegrass bands from outside the United States. It proves convincingly that the "International" part of the organization's title is not just for show.

Admittedly, to those of us in or near the Bluegrass State, the idea of Finnish, Czech and Japanese bluegrass bands has a certain comic sound to it. However, even hardcore bluegrass fans would have a difficult time guessing that these bands were not from the Carolinas or Maine. The playing is impeccable and only in the vocals can the careful listener detect any "foreign" flavor.

The CD, which contains 18 songs, serves as a marvelous sampler of bluegrass songs and styles. If you were looking for only one bluegrass recording to buy this season, Long Journey Home would be an ideal choice. Barnburners, mid-tempo tunes and ballads are all here. The performances and sound quality are uniformly excellent. There is nothing amateur about this production.

My favorite cuts include "River of Love" by Australia's Straight Arrow, something called "Zlata Rybka" by the Czechoslovakian Petr Kus Quartet and France's Bluegrass 43's take on Mozart's "Marche Turque." Most of the singing is in English, but I enjoy the three songs in Czech even more. I would have liked hearing some of the other non-English-speaking bands sing in their everyday language as well.

The IBMA, which is headquartered in Owensboro, Ky., has done a great job of presenting bluegrass from other lands. They and Ken Irwin of Rounder Records should be commended.