Not Quite the Cap on a Long Career

Ice Caps: Peaks Of Telluride
Sam Bush (Sugar Hill)

By Leslie Stewart

It's hard to believe that progressive mandolin/fiddle master Sam Bush is becoming one of the genre's elder statesmen. At last year's International Bluegrass Music Awards, the up-and-coming stars of bluegrass gave their nods to influences Bush and Bela Fleck more often than to J.D. Crowe or Ralph Stanley. This subtle shift in the Warren County-native's stature is further evidenced by his inclusion on the IBMA "approved" list again this year after an eight year absence, as the traditionally-minded organization lauded him with two awards for his work on Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza. The album won both Instrumental Album of the Year and Recorded Event of the Year, and brings Bush's total collection of IBMA awards to five, along with his three Grammys and numerous other awards.

Anyone who has ever seen any of Bush's important groups - the groundbreaking New Grass Revival, which he founded, or Emmylou Harris's Nash Ramblers, or most recently Lyle Lovett's band - can tell you that, without a doubt, Bush is always at his best in live performance. Equally without a doubt, the rabid "festivarians" who make the annual pilgrimage to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival are among the most devoted acoustic music fans on the planet. And the scenic Colorado festival has unquestionably provided Bush with the inspiration for some of his most memorable work, which you will find on Ice Caps.

Most of the tunes included on Ice Caps are the kind of feel-good numbers that Bush has made a career of (especially Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes" medley, which brought down the house at Bush's last KCA appearance with Bela Fleck). However, Bush doesn't shy away from a few more standard bluegrass numbers (although Bill Monroe would no doubt roll in his grave at the sacrilegious idea of drums in a song bearing his nickname), and the vocal moments teamed up with former New Grass Revival vocalist John Cowan border on the perfectly righteous. New Grass alum Bela Fleck also gets his share of the spotlight, as do Jerry Douglas and several other of the usual Telluride suspects.

Anyone who wants to nitpick rather than finger-pick could easily say that a collection of work from the 1990s doesn't document even half of Bush's collective performances at Telluride. He has performed there more than any other artist - all but one of the festival's 27 years. Moreover, those nitpickers may decry that the lack of original material on the disc could be considered something of a major oversight.

But, hey, what do you think the title "Volume Two" is for?

Leslie Stewart is chairman, CEO, president, and coffee brewer of her own media relations company for Louisville music. She also hosts the jazz program Criss-Cross on WFPK, Sundays from 9-11 a.m.